Game two is almost upon us and energy is at an all-time high in the City of Brotherly Love. The question on everyone’s lips now is ‘how long can they keep the freight train going?’. A seventeen game win streak and a double-digit blowout of the Heat certainly leave them in good stead, even without Joel Embiid, but will an experienced playoff coach find a way to bring his Miami team back into contention in front of a sold out Wells Fargo Center? Here are five things to watch out for in tonight’s clash.
Ben Simmons had one of his quieter nights in his first taste of the NBA playoffs, which is surprisingly saying a lot considering he put up 17 points clutched 9 boards and dished out 14 assists. The man is simply a menace and like every other team in the league, Miami’s gameplan was centralized around keeping Simmons away from the rim. That’s all well and good, but the Rookie of the Year candidate was still able to wreak havoc with exceptional court vision.
The Heat are now in an interesting spot. If they decide to hone in on Simmons for a second game in a row, they run the risk of allowing Simmons to simply push the ball outside over and over to veteran sharpshooters who can seemingly now turn any game into a massacre within five minutes. So what we’re left with is either a breakout in terms of point production from Simmons, or another showing of one of the most efficient ‘point guards’ in the league…or whatever superhuman form he decides to take this evening.
The impact of Fultz:
Would the rollercoaster rookie non-season of Markelle Fultz have a fairytale ending after all? If the regular season was anything to go by, absolutely. But nobody really knew how much action Fultz would see in the playoffs…and that’s the Sixers most underrated weapon, unpredictability. Fultz played 13 minutes in his first postseason outing and dotted four assists along with 5 points.
Defending Fultz appears to be a simpler gameplan for Miami; limit him to the perimeter. Fultz is still conservative with his jumpers and does most of his damage when finessing like a ballerina inside the paint and getting the ball to a more dominant scorer. Again, this isn’t a bad thing. The last thing we’d want to see is Fultz trying to take unnecessary risks and become something he isn’t.
If the Sixers are in need of an adrenaline shot, Fultz has the explosiveness to provide exactly that and much like Simmons, keying in on him will only open up the backdoor for Miami. Look for Fultz to have a continued impact tonight.
What the Sixers did oh so well in game one was spread the ball round. By going small and taking the style of Golden State and remolding it to include that gritty and growling mentality, Philadelphia have risen as one of the hottest teams in the NBA in recent weeks. That won’t change tonight, nor should it. The Sixers had 9 more assists than the Heat in game one of the series and ranked second in that category coming into the playoffs. By spreading the ball around with pace, it makes it incredibly difficult for the Heat to cover every angle without exposing another area of weakness.
However, there is going to come a time where someone will need to take over the game. Late on, with the score tied or potentially even with the Sixers down by a few, they will need to turn to someone, likely Simmons, to really make his mark. It’s something that has arguably stung them throughout the regular season, with selflessness often leading to some missed opportunities or turnovers late on. So long as the Sixers continue to dominate, this won’t ever be a problem. But the deeper this run goes, the more windows open for this very valuable learning experience to present itself.
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Will Whiteside rebound?
Not literally, because we know he can do that. But with a shockingly low 2 points, 6 boards and being solely accountable for the Sixers bursting out of the gate in red-hot fashion in the second half, Miami will need their big-man to do a little bit more than that if the Heat have the chance. Stopping that from happening is paramount for the Sixers on defense, who were incredibly efficient last time out. Whiteside’s silence won’t last forever, but if they can smother him once more and force Miami to shoot from range, then that will be good enough.
Patching over the hole:
The absence of Joel Embiid has obviously been felt, but for a player so instrumental to their first 50 win season in what feels like forever, the Sixers are doing a fantastic job of patching the hole. Embiid’s ‘Phantom of the Opera’ mask and bell ringing certainly injected energy into the team before the game and one can only wonder how dominant they will be when the Cameroonian returns. Miami’s sole key to win is either focusing on getting dual-threat guys, like Kelly Olynyk, the ball, or forcing their way into the paint. Robert Covington did a fantastic job of preventing that last time out and will be looked to once again…which brings me to the final point.
Who steps up on defense?
Offensively, the Sixers have been unstoppable, but let’s not completely pave over their unrelenting work on the other end of the court. Philadelphia has been playing hard, but smart. After a strong showing from Robert Covington, the Heat will undoubtedly be looking for ways to slow down the game and run at their pace, exploiting screens and using their height as an advantage. Being nimble, forcing steals and keeping Miami on their toes will have to be the key, but who will be the captain of the ship?
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
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