Sixers vs. Heat: Previewing the NBA Play-In Tournament matchup

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) breaks away from Miami Heat forward Haywood Highsmith and forward Caleb Martin during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, April 4, 2024, in Miami. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

The Philadelphia 76ers are bound for the NBA’s Play-In Tournament for the first time in franchise history. As the Sixers prepare to face off against Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat, it’s time to preview to matchup to come for Philadelphia.

The winner of this matchup will go on to New York to face the Knicks in a seven-game series. The loser will play one more win-or-go-home game to make the playoffs and face the Boston Celtics in the first round.

Injury Report

Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid grabs his left knee after the basket during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Orlando Magic, Friday, April 12, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

The biggest news for Philadelphia is Joel Embiid’s availability. According to Sixers head coach Nick Nurse, the reigning MVP was a full participant during Tuesday’s practice. While Nurse is always tight-lipped and considers players ‘hopeful’ and not certain, he has been clear that barring an unforeseen change, Embiid will be good to go for Wednesday’s game.

However, De’Anthony Melton’s prognosis was not so encouraging. According to Nurse, Melton did not practice either Monday or Tuesday. His availability for Wednesday’s game looks shakey at absolute best.

Aside from Melton and Robert Covington, who Nick Nurse confirmed was done for the season, Philadelphia is looking rather healthy heading into this matchup. Forward KJ Martin spoke with the media yesterday, saying he feels ‘solid’ and will likely be available should he be needed on Wednesday.

The news out of Miami follows mainly starting guard Terry Rozier, who missed practice with a neck injury. It was later announced that we will also miss the game against the Sixers. Former Sixer Josh Richardson will also miss the matchup after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery. Forward Kevin Love was a partial participant, and wing Duncan Robinson was a limited participant. Love is currently listed as available, while Robinson is probable.

Matchups to watch

Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris (12) grabs a rebound as Miami Heat guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. (11) defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 25, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

There’s no shortage of interesting potential matchups in this game, including Jimmy Butler vs. Tobias Harris, Bam Adebayo vs. Joel Embiid, and Tyler Herro vs. Tyrese Maxey. Then there’s the matter of Kyle Lowry facing the team that booted him after a Finals run just last season.

This Play-In matchup is full of stars and bad blood in what is perhaps the best possible case for the NBA.

‘Tobias Harris over me?’

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)

That is the famous quote Jimmy Butler offered as he walked off the court as the Heat eliminated the Sixers in the second round of the 2022 NBA playoffs. While that’s not exactly how the series of events transpired, it’s clear Butler does not care, as it is functional bulletin board material.

Harris, meanwhile, is in the final season of the extension he signed, supposedly instead of Butler. While it’s not always undeserved, Harris has heard plenty of noise about his contract with Philadelphia.

Who will guard Tyler Herro?

sixers 76ers
Miami Heat’s Tyler Herro goes up for a shot against Philadelphia 76ers’ Buddy Hield during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Even though Terry Rozier, who lives up to the name Scary Terry when he plays Philadelphia, will miss the Play-In matchup, Tyler Herro remains another automatic source of offense.

Kelly Oubre makes sense as a potential defender, given his length and athleticism. The issue that presents itself, though, is that if Harris is on Butler and Oubre is on Herro, what will Kyle Lowry and Tyrese Maxey do defensively?

Joel Embiid is the certain choice to defend Heat center Bam Adebayo, which likely leaves wing Caleb Martin and Nikola Jovic. Lowry’s surprising strength makes him a capable, though undersized, matchup against Jovic, while Maxey’s speed will help him stay in front of Martin. Both players will have to avoid overcommitting in help situations to avoid a barrage of three-pointers.

Utilizing Oubre as a help defender off Jovic is an option, as is putting the undersized but surprisingly strong Kyle Lowry on Jovic, allowing Oubre to defend Rozier and leaving Maxey, who, to his credit, is a vastly improved defender this season, to handle Herro.

How could the Sixers balance defensive assignments

Philadelphia 76ers’ Nicolas Batum (40) and Mo Bamba right, battle for the rebound with Miami Heat’s Bam Adebayo, center, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 18, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Lineups that include Oubre, Harris, and Nico Batum are another possible solution. Lineups with the aforementioned trio played the second-most minutes of any three-man lineup alongside Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey. That type of versatility and length may be Philadelphia’s best bet at holding Butler, but as far as their plan come Wednesday night, mum’s the word.

Oubre spoke after practice Wednesday afternoon and was asked about defending Butler. Oubre would not give anything to the media, knowing that Butler is always watching, looking for that extra boost of motivation as he did back in 2022.

After Tuesday’s practice, Nico Batum spoke on balancing a defensive focus on Butler with defending the perimeter:

“Welcome to the NBA.”

Batum continued, saying: “You’re gonna play against good teams now. We all got great players that can do a lot of stuff… If I find a way to slow down one guy but find a way also to make sure the other guys don’t go crazy as well. That’s the beauty of the NBA and the playoffs.”

While Nico’s response is entertaining, it’s also packed to the brim with truth. This matchup will be anything but easy for Philadelphia, even with Joel Embiid back in the fold.