Five things to watch in game 3 of playoff series between Sixers and Heat


As Philly fans gear up for game three of their playoff matchup versus the Miami Heat, people have some questions after the game two loss. Can Joel Embiid play? Will Markelle Fultz step up for the second unit? Will the Sixers shooters get back on track? Can the Sixers defense step up again and provide the pressure they generated over the course of the season that made them one of the leagues best?

Joel Embiid’s return:
Will the center return for Game 3 as he hopes? The team has listed him as doubtful then they’ve switched it to probable. That means that we’re more than likely going to see Joel play tonight. If he does, he should be a huge difference maker for the Sixers. His interior defense alone makes the Sixers a favorite in this game. But, when Embiid is on the floor, starting, Ersan Ilyasova gets pushed back to the second unit and that’s where the Sixers thrive. When they’re disrupted and Ilyasova has to start, it changes the dynamic of the second unit and hurts the team overall. Game one, the Sixers were hitting everything that they threw up, but in Game 2, it wasn’t working as well and they’re down a very big piece of their puzzle. With Embiids return, the Sixers will look more like the team that they were down the stretch of the regular season.


Ben Simmons becoming more aggressive:
With Embiid possibly returning and even if he doesn’t, Ben Simmons should be looking to turn up his intensity as the series heads to Miami. Simmons has been just shy of a triple double in both games of the series but, in order to get the team better open shots, he’ll have to drive the ball and draw the defense to him. That will open up the shooters for better looks from three-point land, where they really put together an amazing showing in Game 1. Simmons has been a beast throughout the year, but now is the time to really push the envelope when it comes to scoring. He can draw fouls as well as move the ball and it could put Miami in real trouble if Simmons and Embiid are playing in the interior and getting those fouls.


Markelle Fultz should be better:
Fultz, when operating with a full second unit can be a real problem for the Heat. When he’s on that unit and Ilyasova is as well, the Sixers have as good of a second team as anyone in the league and can really keep the pressure on Miami to tire out their starters trying to defend two active shooting groups that also play very good defense. It can be a real problem. Don’t worry about Fultz not taking a lot of jump shots because he’ll have the players on the floor that can knock them down and that will allow him to roam the floor and use his passing ability and vision to disrupt the Miami defense. His athleticism and length will provide a problem for the Heats offense as well. With both units being controlled by Simmons and Fultz, the Sixers can push this one, quickly, out of reach for Miami.


Shooters need to shoot:
The Sixers rely heavily on their outside shooting and with Embiid returning, this should really open up the floor for the first unit as Saric, Reddick and Covington should get much better and more open looks. The Heat will have to account for Joel and that leaves them vulnerable throughout the rest of the floor. When the second unit comes on, Ilyasova and Belinelli can do just as much damage. Getting their open looks and taking quality shots is going to be a big key for the Sixers controlling this game.


The game plans are completely different when Embiid is in vs. when he’s not playing. All signs point toward him playing tonight and that’s going to be a huge bonus for the Sixers. Part of it will be Embiid and his desire to have the Sixers make a deep run in these playoffs. He’s stated how he wants them to win and he’s been mad that he hasn’t seen the floor in the first two games. That’s not good for the Heat nor is it good for Hassan Whiteside, who Embiid seems to have a special place in his heart for.

The second thing will be the Sixers getting back to playing very tough defense. They’re the 3rdbest team in defensive efficiency for the season in the NBA but, have allowed over 100 points to this Heat team in both games. That needs to stop and with Embiid they should be able to reassert themselves to keeping Miami in the low 90’s for the game. Coming out strong and showing their strength at both end of the court to start will be a huge key as the Sixers like to run up the score early. Here’s hoping that it all comes together and we’re able to see the whole team on the floor for the first time in the playoffs this year.



Game Three Prediction: Sixers 118 – Miami 93


Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports