Sixers head home looking for first win over Heat

The Sixers competed as well as they could to start the second round without their MVP candidate, but they weren’t able to keep up. Heat through two games. Now they will look for their first victory in Philadelphia, as they return home Friday 2-0.

Of course, the biggest question mark before Game 3 is whether Joel Embiid is playing. For the moment, he is declared absent. He won’t be upgraded until he clears concussion protocols. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Thursday that “there is still progress that could be made to change his availability from Heat Friday.”

[Editor’s update, Shams Charania has reported that Embiid has now cleared concussion protocol and is doing all he can to play. He’s still listed officially “out” but he’s at least cleared that critical hurdle making this situation seem fluid].

Ramona Shelburne has discussed Embiid’s status and said a decision on whether he will play would likely be much closer to whistleblowing. Shelburne also mentioned that while Embiid will need a mask when he returns, he won’t need goggles this time, like the ones he hated wearing in the 2018 playoffs. At least the big guy can play with a little more comfort when he is able to come back.

For the Heat, Kyle Lowry was upgraded to questionable after missing the first two games with hamstring strain.

We all know Embiid’s return, even just in its masked best light, would change everything. While the Heat are still an elite defensive team that can dispatch double-pointed teams, they don’t have a ton of size to throw at Embiid. The pressure on James Harden and others to create as many would be lifted immediately, once again restoring the Sixers with staggering better options. Embiid’s turnover, post-ups and face-up play to provide inside presence and extra free throws would give the offense a dimension it lacked. And with the attention Embiid commands within, its demise of dual teams would lead to more open threes and may be more marks after the Sixers’ frosty start to the series.

Embiid’s defensive presence, while not 100%, is also greatly missed. He would reduce some of the Sixers’ rebounding issues (they allowed 15 offensive boards in Game 1 and eight on Wednesday), have the ability to handle Bam Adebayo, and generally anchor the paint in a way no one else comes close. The Sixers’ pick-and-roll defense has also been burned too often – whether it’s defenders not getting past ball screens or DeAndre Jordan offering no resistance at the edge or at the screen. Embiid coming back with mobility to move higher against picks and using drop cover at a high level would be huge. The Sixers could also cut all of Jordan’s minutes (if Doc Rivers trusted Paul Reed as a slightly smaller backup option).

Jimmy Butler has made it clear he’s eager to face his MVP pick.

So other than hoping for a return from Embiid, what else could the Sixers use to get back into this series in Game 3?

Tobias Harris has been excellent throughout the playoffs and isn’t giving up against the Heat. He brings his best defense and scores efficiently, using kills off the dribble while effectively targeting favorable shifts on drives and short jumpers. If he continues like this, the Sixers still have a better chance of keeping games close.

Tyrese Maxey shot just 6 of 15 in Game 1 and had a modest 11 halftime points in Game 2. To start the series, he struggled a bit against the Heat’s aggressive and shifting defense, and couldn’t always drive by big opponents. out of dribbling in pick-and-rolls as usual, given Adebayo’s incredible agility. However, Maxey exploded in the second half on Wednesday. He scored 23 points on 7-of-11 shooting over the past two quarters, helping the Sixers stay in the game much longer. He looked more comfortable reaching the rim and ran effectively in transition to add some easier scores as well. If Maxey found more comfort in how to succeed against the Miami defense, it would give the Sixers a real boost on Friday.

Downsizing more often with Harris-Niang frontcourts can help space the ground and get the offense moving as well. If you can’t build a good enough defensive lineup anyway, why not at least pick up more pace, expand Miami’s defense, and shoot more threes to (hopefully) shoot the Heat if the shots start to fire. fall?

Plus, Jordan is going to be on fire every time he guards Miami pick-and-rolls. Giving Reed as many minutes as possible so he can stay mobile in the middle of an area and move at the ball screens or switch is a much better option. Reed has his issues on the boards and manages someone as strong as Adebayo, but Reed is still a much better option than Jordan. The young big man also played 25 minutes in Game 2 and only committed two fouls which is a step in the right direction to win more time. Whether the Sixers use the Harris-Niang or Reed duo at center, going smaller is smarter.

James Harden was solid in Game 2, recording 20 points and nine assists. But as with Game 1, Harden was silent in the second half with four points and a field goal (exact same numbers as his Game 1 second half). Obviously, the Sixers would benefit from more goal production from Harden to help close out games, but the Heat so often throw two or three defenders at him, with assist defenders moving down the lane ready for him. remove its space to drive. This version of Harden can’t reach No. 1 high-volume goalscorer status against a defense this good without Embiid. Miami kidnaps Harden’s chamber to create and force other players to beat them.

But the other problem from there is as simple as there is in basketball: these players are missing too many shots.

The Sixers generated good looks from three in the first two games, many of which were created by Harden’s excellent passes against pressure. But the blows simply do not fall.

In two games, the Sixers shot just 21.9 percent from three. Danny Green shot 2 of 14, including 1 of 9 in Game 2. Georges Niang shot 1 of 10. Maxey seems to have found his goalscoring rhythm now, but even he hasn’t been nearly three-2 out of 10 in total.

Given the quality of this Heat team, their depth advantage and the lack of Embiid, the Sixers’ margin for error is already far too low. If they can’t do their three on top of all those downsides, they really can’t do anything else.

It’s no surprise that right now, with Embiid out until further notice, the Heat enter Game 3 as the 3 point favorite.

If Embiid does return, it’s an entirely different series. But even if he remains absent in Game 3, it is not impossible for the Sixers to win. If Maxey and Harris keep making progress and the team’s supporting players can actually start hitting their threes, that could be enough to lift the Sixers to their first second-round victory.

Game Information

Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. miami heat

When: 7:00 p.m. ET, May 6, 2022

Or: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Watch: ESPN

Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic

To follow: @Liberty_Ballers

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Brandon D. James