HEAT Preparing For Tough Sixers Squad In Round 1

Photo Credit: Jesse D. Garrabrant
by Joe Beguiristain
HEAT.com

After missing the playoffs by the slimmest of margins a year ago, the HEAT redeemed themselves and earned the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference with a victory over the Raptors in their regular season finale on Wednesday.

As a result, Miami will now face a surging Philadelphia 76ers squad in the postseason for the first time since 2011 and for just the second time in franchise history.

You may have heard by now that Philadelphia closed the regular season on a 16-game winning streak despite not having Joel Embiid for half of those contests (Embiid is out for Game 1, but is getting close to a return). And while the 76ers didn’t play many playoff teams during their stretch run, Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick and Marco Belinelli shot the ball very well. Of course, Markelle Fultz also provided a spark with his long-awaited return to the lineup.

“It’s hard not to notice how well they’ve played the last 16 games,” Erik Spoelstra said. “And they’ve showed great resilience throughout the course of this season and [they’re] playing their best basketball going into the postseason. We respect that and we’ve had great battles with them, so it should be very competitive.”

Speaking of those battles, Miami and Philadelphia split the season series 2-2, with the HEAT winning the final two matchups at AmericanAirlines Arena. Although Kelly Olynyk and Justise Winslow fared quite well against the 76ers during the year (25.6 and 16.5 net rating, respectively), you can’t forget about Dwyane Wade’s fantastic fourth quarter and subsequent game winner against Philadelphia on Feb. 27.

Down the stretch in that game, Wade also had the tall task of defending the 6-foot-10 Simmons. While James Johnson, Winslow and Josh Richardson will likely get the lion’s share of the reps against Simmons throughout the series, Wade could guard him from time to time.

After a team meeting on Thursday, the 15-year vet had high praise for the Australian.

“He’s made his own way in this NBA playing his style of basketball [and] he’s leading the team,” Wade said. “So he’s done an amazing job as a young player, every night consistently, bringing the game that wins and that’s playing all-around basketball.”

Thanks to Simmons’ innate ability to attack the basket and get into the paint effectively, he makes life much easier for the myriad of shooters around him. With that in mind, things will be tough for the HEAT, but they’ve been strong on the defensive end all year long. And with the pace slowing down and the sense of urgency heightened during the postseason, Miami’s solid defensive habits should come to the light.

At the end of the day though, the playoffs are a clean slate, whether you enter having just snapped a two-game losing skid like the HEAT or riding a 16-game winning streak such as the 76ers.

“This is where moments are made,” Hassan Whiteside said. “That’s all Coach Spo has been talking about: the playoffs are about moments. This is what the whole season has been about, getting to this point.”

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