The Miami Heat (42-37) are coming into Philadelphia to take on the Sixers (52-27), trying to gain ground on the Brooklyn Nets and avoid the play-in tournament for the playoffs. The Philadelphia 76ers can lock up the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference with a victory tonight.
Who: Miami Heat (42-37) at Philadelphia 76ers (52-27)
When: 7:30 pm EST
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pa.
Eye on the Sixers tonight
The Sixers come into Thursday night’s game having defeated the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night, 103-101, behind Joel Embiid’s monster night. Embiid finished the Boston game with 52 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists.
Embiid seems to have solidified his chance at winning the league MVP this season with his performance on Tuesday night. The points, rebounds, and assists were huge in a game that the Sixers absolutely needed to win for a piece of mind heading into the playoffs. What couldn’t have been expected was Embiid shooting 80% from the floor, going 20-25 shooting. He was also 12-13 on his free-throw attempts. That level of efficiency is almost unheard of, but every bit of it was needed as everyone else on the team, with the exception of James Harden, seemed to be lost.
Harden finished the Celtics game with 20 points, five rebounds, and ten assists. More importantly, he was 4-8 on his three-point attempts as he’s shooting 38.6% on the season from beyond the arc. It’s the best he’s shot since his final year in Oklahoma City. What The Sixers need from Harden is the quick first step that he had seemed to regain prior to injuring his leg. If the Sixers can get the Harden that’s been playing healthy for a good portion of the year; they should be able to actually make some noise in the playoffs.
Guard Tyrese Maxey has a poor night against the Celtics, but if we look at what he’s done since being moved back into the starting lineup, that won’t be an issue going forward. Maxey is currently shooting 43.3% on his three-point attempts, which is good enough for 5th in the league. After a rough start to the season, Maxey has regained his confidence and shooting since becoming the starter. It’s obvious that he’s at his best when paired with Harden, but that can be said for almost anyone on the floor.
The Sixers are going to need to see a lot from their bench over the last three games. With their position in the playoffs as close to being assured as it could be, the time for them to get the bench players minutes should be these last three games. Players like Paul Reed, who’s seen extended minutes of late, Daniel House Jr., Jalen McDaniels, Shake Milton, and Georges Niang should all be warming up for the playoffs. The key is to see if head coach Doc Rivers uses them correctly or if he continues, as he did prior in the season, to go to an all-bench lineup which always puts the Sixers in a hole.
Eye on the Heat in Philly
The Miami Heat will be coming into Philadelphia, absolutely needing a win tonight. They have tonight’s game, then follow it up with games against the Wizards and Magic. They’re fighting to get out of the play-in tournament with the Brooklyn Nets. The Heat are 1-1/2 games behind the Nets and have three games remaining, while the Nets have two remaining, one of which is against the Sixers to finish their season. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that the Sixers won’t be playing many starters in the final game, so the Heat will need to get a win tonight.
The Heat were expected to be at the top of the Eastern Conference this season, along with the Bucks, Celtics, and Sixers, as they finished last year in first place in the conference. This year has been completely different, as they’re fighting for their playoff lives.
Jimmy Butler is doing his part, averaging 22.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 1.9 steals per game on the season. Center Bam Adebayo is averaging 20.7 points and 9.3 rebounds, while guard Tyler Herro is giving the Heat 20.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.2 assists. They’re good numbers for a team that features six players that have averaged double-digits in scoring, as well as two others that are tenths of a point below that level. Things just haven’t gone right for the Heat.
Kyle Lowry and Victor Oladipo have been contributing, but not as expected. The addition of Kevin Love from the buyout Markey was supposed to help elevate the team, but they’re only 10-10 since bringing in the veteran.
It’s anyone’s guess as to what team is going to show up for the Heat. Is it the squad that beat up on the Pistons on Tuesday night in an efficient 118-105 victory, or is it the team that played poorly and was beaten by the Knicks just a week ago?
The Heat, if they get a win, may be able to get Butler in a better mood about his chances in this year’s playoffs, but that doesn’t seem likely. Butler has had issues throughout the year with the team. He’s criticized their defense and recently walked off the court during a loss to the Magic. That’s not the Butler the team needs with three games remaining in the season.
What to look for tonight
The Heat absolutely needs to win tonight against a tough Philly team that’s getting ready for rough playoffs, regardless of who they play. The Eastern Conference is loaded this year with the three top teams in the league as well as four of the top five. No matter who is playing, the playoffs will be tough, but they’ll be tougher for the Heat if they’re involved in the play-in tournament.
The Sixers may be without Tyrese Maxey and PJ Tucker tonight, which would be huge for the Heat, yet they’re still facing Harden and Embiid, along with a group of players that want to show head coach Doc Rivers that they’re ready for playoff minutes. This is probably not the night for the Heat to gain any ground.