The Sixers are heading down to South Beach to take on the first-place Miami Heat in the second game of a back-to-back for Philly. They’re coming off a Friday night victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers that saw the Sixers look out of sorts for much of the first half and parts of the second half. As it’s done in recent games against the Knicks, the team fell behind early before taking over the second half and nailing down their fifth win in a row.
The Miami Heat are at home after a close win over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday that saw a short-handed Heat team overcome 31 points from Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant. The Heat have maintained their hold onto first place of late, in spite of being short-handed quite a bit lately. While they’ve managed wins over the teams like the Mavericks and Bulls, they’ve also had a nice time beating teams like the Wizards, Spurs, Pelicans, Knicks, and the free-falling Nets. Luckily, the Heat have had an easier schedule of late while they battle injuries.
The Heat are Hurting
Tonight’s game will be without Kyle Lowry (personal), Markief Morris (conditioning), and Victor Oladipo (right knee), but there are more that could affect the team as they take on the 2nd place Sixers. Jimmy Butler is questionable (toe) as well as starting forward PJ Tucker (knee). While the Heat have benefited from not having a rough schedule of late, the team has pulled together and won some games.
Against the Nets, forward Max Strus had 21 points and 5 rebounds, Center Bam Adebayo finished with 30 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists, guard Tyler Herro had 27 points and 8 assists. So, the team is getting huge big production from the guys that are healthy, and that’s helped them maintain first place in the East.
Here Come the Sixers
The Sixers, compared to Miami, come into the matchup healthy but more than likely a little tired after their win over the Cavaliers on Friday night in Philadelphia. The trio of James Harden, Joel Embiid, and Tyrese Maxey has proven, at least over the first four games of the Harden era, that they’re borderline unstoppable. Embiid had a quiet 22 points and 9 rebounds, while Harden had a relatively quiet 25 points and 11 assists.
While the Sixers’ third star, Maxey, finished with a season-high 33 points, the more impressive part was that Maxey improved his shooting, despite shooting over 64% from the field and three-pointers, since Harden’s arrival. Maxey, on Friday, finished 10-15 from the field and 5-6 on three-pointers. The numbers are absurd, but that’s pretty much what he’s been doing since Harden took the court.
Here are the surprises, though, that should give the Sixers and their fans some hope. Tobias Harris has struggled to find a role in the new offense and finally put together a nice game with 15 points and 4 rebounds. Harden, ever the coach as well as a teammate, has said that it will take some time for Harris to realize he can take the spot-up threes that he’ll be set up with. Harris may have started to see some light as he seemed more confident and less hesitant than in the past few weeks. But, it’s not just Harris.
Shake Milton finished with 11 points, and while that may not seem like a big deal, Milton has had a rough time this season battling injuries and Covid. Last night, he was back to attacking the basket and moving well in the limited minutes he had. Then there’s Georges Niang.
Niang, at times this season, has been a missing person. But, he’s developed quite a reputation as a fiery player that is constantly hyped up and hyping up his teammates. Since James Harden arrived, he’s changed. Niang was driving to the basket, losing control of his dribble and looking like he was out of place. Then Harden pulled him aside and said that he needed to shoot three-pointers. Ten of them, to be exact. That game, against Milwaulkee, Niang finished 5-10 from deep and hasn’t looked back since.
After the All-Star Break and Harden made his debut for the Sixers, Niang has been shooting 50% over those four games, going 10-20 from deep. The excitement that Niang brings to the team and the floor is being matched with production in limited minutes. Having the confidence of your teammates is one thing but having one of the best players in the history of the league have that same confidence in you is a whole different level. That’s the level that Niang is playing on.
The Sixers, having won five in a row and all four games that Harden has played in, are going to be a much tougher opponent for this Miami Heat club. If Butler can’t play tonight, the Heat will be down another important piece. The problem for the Sixers is that the pieces that have been playing have been enough to get them through the tough times.
The Sixers, to their credit, will be looking to make a statement as they’ve heard the whispers about how the Knicks and Cavaliers aren’t credible opponents, and getting a win would pull them within a game of first place in the Eastern Conference. While the Heat are a strong team, the Sixers are on a roll, and they’re still just getting started. They’re going to be too much for the Heat, at least at this point in the season, but this is a matchup that could foreshadow the Eastern Conference Finals this year, so it’s one that should be watched.
Final Score Prediction:
Sixers – 115 | Heat – 112
Spread: Sixers +2
Moneyline: Sixers +105
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