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Sixers-Heat: Can Sixers withstand the Heat?

Posted by Eric Fisher On April 14

It has been a long time since there was a need to write a 76ers playoff preview.

Six years, to be exact.

There has been a lot of awful basketball during those six years, but we can put all of that behind us now because the surging Sixers are preparing to take on the Heat in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

The Sixers are the NBA’s hottest team. They enter the series, which begins Saturday (8 p.m.), on a 16-game winning streak, the longest streak entering the postseason in NBA history. Are the Sixers likely to extend that streak by honoring the late, great Moses Malone with a fo’, fo’, fo’ and fo’ playoff run? Probably not. But they are the favorites in their first-round series, and, depending on what happens against the Heat, could be the favorite in their second-round series.

It’s been so long since the Sixers were in the playoffs, that I don’t remember which style I used for their playoff previews. Instead of breaking down the teams in a traditional way, I’m going to use my 10 questions Eagles-style preview to analyze the Sixers-Heat series. If the format doesn’t work out, I’ll use the other format for the second round – assuming they beat the Heat.

The following are 10 questions to consider for the Sixers-Heat series.

Can the Sixers win the series without Joel Embiid?

The Heat certainly aren’t pushovers, so, if Embiid isn’t available for the entire series, nobody should be surprised if the Heat prevail. On the other hand, the last eight victories during the Sixers’ 16-game winning streak to close out the regular season were achieved without Embiid, so they certainly could win the series without Embiid.

When will Joel Embiid return?

Sixers head coach Brett Brown and Embiid say he won’t play in Game 1. Let’s take them at their word. My guess is that Embiid’s return date from a broken left orbital bone depends on how the series progresses. If the Sixers win Game 1, there’s no need to rush him back for Game 2. If they win the first two games, it’s unlikely Embiid will play in Game 3. The Sixers will push Embiid’s return back as far as possible, although, if they’re comfortably ahead in the series, Embiid will likely play so he can adjust to playing with a mask on in a less-pressurized situation, much like the Flyers did by starting Brian Elliott during the final two games of the regular season after a 25-game absence.

How will the Heat defend Ben Simmons?

The Sixers’ point guard is a matchup nightmare. At 6-foot-10, he is too big for most guards to handle. He is averaging 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.2 assists per game. He is a threat for a triple double every game. The Heat will probably try to contain Simmons by alternating defenders. Forwards James Johnson, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson and Josh Richardson may be used to defend Simmons, and the Heat used Dwyane Wade to guard Simmons at times during the regular season. It will also be interesting to see what strategy the Heat use against Simmons. Will they sag back toward the lane in an attempt to cut off his driving lanes and dare Simmons to shoot from the outside? During the fourth quarter, will they foul Simmons, a 56 percent free-throw shooter, forcing him to either make his free throws or forcing the Sixers to put the ball in someone else’s hands?

Will the young Sixers wilt under the playoff spotlight?

Thanks to president and general manager Bryan Colangelo, the Sixers aren’t that young. Yes, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Markelle Fultz are inexperienced players getting their first taste of playoff action, but veterans JJ Redick, Ersan Ilyasova, Marco Belinelli and Amir Johnson should lend stability and calmness to the playoff effort.

Aside from Ben Simmons, who has been the Sixers’ most important player since Joel Embiid was injured?

The answer is probably JJ Redick. The veteran guard led the Sixers in scoring in five straight games, twice scoring 28 points and once scoring 25. Redick’s leadership and outside shooting will be extremely important during the playoffs.

How healthy is Dario Saric?

With Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons dominating the spotlight, Saric’s fine season has been overlooked. After an initial adjustment period to playing in a lineup with Simmons, JJ Redick and a full-time Embiid, Saric adjusted his game and found ways to contribute, averaging 14.6 point points and 6.7 rebounds. But down the stretch Saric experienced elbow issues and suffered a chipped tooth and lacerated lip on Tuesday in the Sixers’ penultimate game of the regular season. Without Embiid, Saric becomes a more essential contributor.

Who is the Heat’s top threat?

The top scorer is guard Goran Dragic, who averages 17.3 points per game. But the Heat are a deep and versatile team. They have eight players who average in double figures, not including guard Dion Waiters missed the second half of the season due to ankle surgery. Center Hassan Whiteside (14 points); forward Josh Richardson (12.9); guard Tyler Johnson (11.7); center Kelly Olynyk (11.5); guard Dwyane Wade (11.4); guard Wayne Ellington (11.2); and forward James Johnson (10.8) join Dragic in double figures.

How old is Dwyane Wade?

Wade is 36 years old. Before considering him over the hill, remember that he torched the Sixers during the fourth quarter of a Heat comeback victory earlier this season.

Which version of Hassan Whiteside will show up?

Whiteside, who has been on the losing end of social media confrontations with Joel Embiid, the king of social media, has been inconsistent this season. At times, head coach Erik Spoelstra has opted to go with Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo instead of Whiteside, who averages a double-double (14 points, 11.4 rebounds. With Embiid sidelined, the Sixers may have difficulty defending a motivated Whiteside. More importantly, Whiteside’s defense around the basket may affect Ben Simmons’ ability to finish on drives to the basket.

What impact will Markelle Fultz make during this series?

This is one of the wild cards for the Sixers. One month ago, nobody was counting on Fultz to even play during the postseason. But he has been impressive coming off the bench. He even posted a triple-double at the end of the season. If Fultz can supply 15 minutes of handling the ball, with 8-10 points and a few assists, each game, Sixers fans should be happy. If he contributes more than that, it would be a terrific sign for the Sixers’ chances of playoff success.

PREDICTION

The Sixers have won 16 straight games, often blowing out opponents. But the Heat play a lot of close games and prefer a halfcourt style, which is usually more prevalent in the playoffs than the Sixers’ fast-paced style. A key to this series could be which team dictates the pace of play. Both teams are good defensive teams. A huge unknown factor is when Joel Embiid will return and how effective he will be while wearing a protective mask. This won’t be as easy as some fans seems to expect, but the Sixers should advance to the next round. SIXERS in 6

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Embiid injured in collision with Fultz