Previewing the Sixers’ potential playoff matchups

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Embiid, 76ers
Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler, right, goes up for a shot against Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Feb. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

With the Philadelphia 76ers needing one more win out of their remaining four games to secure the third seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, the focus has started to shift toward the postseason. The Sixers have now clinched the third seed and will match up with the sixth seed in the conference.

The Brooklyn Nets currently hold the sixth seed, but the Miami Heat are still in the mix to possibly grab the position. Both the Heat and Nets are fighting to nab the sixth seed so they can stay out of the play-in tournament. As it happens, the Sixers still have games against the Heat and Nets left on the schedule, but with the third seed already clinched by Philadelphia, we may not see any starters playing or any coaching strategies that they could employ during the playoffs.

How would the Sixers match up against either opponent? Should they hope to play one over the other? How tough would a series be against Miami or Brooklyn? Check out my thoughts on those questions below:

Should the Sixers be Rooting for One Team Over the Other?

With both Brooklyn and Miami fighting to stay out of the play-in, who would the Sixers be rooting for to nab the sixth spot? The Sixers would more than likely be rooting for the Brooklyn Nets to grab the sixth spot over the Miami Heat.

If someone told you in September that the Nets and Sixers would be facing off in the playoffs, one would think it would be must-see TV. Back then, the matchup would have been Joel Embiid and James Harden versus Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Ben Simmons.

That’s no longer the case, as the Nets don’t have Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant on the roster, trading both away just before the trade deadline. Ben Simmons is now away from the team as he deals with nagging back and knee injuries. The Nets now boast a lineup headlined by Mikal Bridges and Spencer Dinwiddie, which is far from the star-studded lineup they started the season with.

The Miami Heat are still headlined by former Sixer Jimmy Butler and Head Coach Erik Spoelstra, which have given the Sixers problems in the past. The Heat aren’t what they were last season, but they still feel like a formidable opponent in a playoff setting. The Sixers are currently 1-1 against the Heat this season, with one more to go.

The Sixers had a narrow loss at home, followed by a blowout in Miami a few days later. The Sixers also took the season series from the Nets, currently leading 3-0, winning the first two games at home. They won their first game at home without Tyrese Maxey, Joel Embiid, and James Harden. The second game was a closer contest as a showcase during the NBA’s Rivals Week. The Sixers also got a win against the new look Nets as well.

How Would the Sixers Matchup Against the Nets or Heat?

The Heat’s roster isn’t as nearly as talented as the Sixers or as talented as last season’s Eastern Conference Finals team, but they still have Jimmy Butler and Erik Spoelstra. The Sixers starting lineup has the advantage in every position except for the matchup between Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris.

Miami ranks 25th in the NBA in offensive rating and is fueled by transition buckets, Jimmy Butler free throws, and streaky shooting from Tyler Herro. Defense and toughness is their calling card, and the Sixers can expect the Heat to try to intimidate and impose their will on that end of the floor to try to even the talent discrepancy.

Although the Miami Heat have Bam Adebayo, he alone wouldn’t be able to slow down Joel Embiid. No team has been really able to slow down Embiid, but if a team focuses on him could open it up for other players like Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey. The Sixers would also have to have James Harden limit turnovers to help keep the Heat out of transition.

Another matchup to account for in this matchup would be coaching. Spoelstra has outcoached Doc Rivers in previous matchups, but Rivers has been mostly good this season. Rivers has been better at making quicker adjustments in game, and hopefully, that continues in the playoffs. Ultimately, the Sixers would be able to win this series but could come out bruised and beaten due to the physicality of the Miami Heat.

The Nets present a different type of matchup for the 76ers. With their total roster overhaul, they now have a large collection of long, athletic wing players, who many would label “3-D” type players. The 76ers’ normal rotation doesn’t boast many players with that label. The Nets have a rotation of wings that includes rising-star Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Royce O’Neale, Dorian Finney-Smith, Yuta Watanabe, and Joe Harris.

Brooklyn may not seem as formidable without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but they have the ability to disrupt on defense with their length and get hot from three-point range. Nic Claxton’s verticality and defense also present a challenge, with the ability to catch lobs and finish and defend the hoop. The 76ers would still have four of the five best players in the series and should be to dispatch the Nets without too much of a problem.

Philadelphia would have a major coaching advantage against the Nets, but Brooklyn head coach Jacque Vaughn would like to try to pull out all the stops to upset the Sixers. This matchup with the Nets would likely help head coach Doc Rivers prepare for a second matchup with the Boston Celtics, as they have a similar collection of wing players. This matchup with the Nets would show the coaching staff who would be able to play in who wouldn’t in a potential series with the Celtics.

How Tough Would a Potential Series Be?

Both these series could present different pitfalls for the Sixers, offensively and defensively, that could give them some trouble. Ultimately the Sixers should be able to dispatch either the Nets or the Heat in the first round. The series with the Nets feels like more of a five games series, with the Sixers closing out the Nets at home. A series against the Heat feels more like a five or six-game series, with the Sixers winning a hard-fought physical series.