Miami HEAT at Philadelphia 76ers Game Preview

Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon

The Miami HEAT face the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night at Wells Fargo Center. The HEAT defeated the 76ers 125-98 in their last meeting on March 1. Tip-off is set for 8:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 7:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: What was your main takeaway from Miami’s close loss at Cleveland?

Couper Moorhead: Despite the dramatic finish, this game had the feeling of one that might be somewhat discarded for scouting purposes even should these teams meet in the postseason. It was a disjointed, rhythm-less affair in which each side had their second-worst offensive game of the year, combining for 35 turnovers and 9-of-54 shooting from three. Both teams had their defensive moments, the HEAT able to effectively cut off many of LeBron James’ passing lanes by playing two-on-two defense in the middle of the floor and Cleveland able to keep Miami out of any sort of flow despite usage of spacing-heavy lineups, but little about the affair felt particularly instructive in any way. Sure, it was a missed opportunity with the No. 3 seed available and the tiebreaker with Cleveland at risk but it’s just now February. As long as Miami is firmly in the playoff mix and not chasing the group to get back in, we can fret about seeding come March.

Joe Beguiristain: Simply put, it was a defensive slugfest.

While the HEAT did a nice job defensively and held the Cavaliers to just 35 percent shooting, they had their own issues putting the ball in the hoop. That said, Josh Richardson made some timely plays late and scored nine points on 4-of-6 shooting in the fourth quarter. On the flip side of the ball, Richardson defended Dwyane Wade and Isaiah Thomas quite well throughout the contest.

Although Richardson was great, you can’t forget about Justise Winslow’s performance on Wednesday night. The 21-year-old rose to the occasion against LeBron James and limited him as much as possible. Of course, Winslow also showed improved touch around the rim and set up his teammates well.

All in all, it was a pretty ugly game like Coup mentioned above, but the fact is Miami had a chance to win it in the end. That’s really all you can ask for. 

2: With this being the first time the HEAT will see Philadelphia in the regular season, how have they been different this year and how is their season going?

Couper: The 76ers are 24-24 with a Top 5 defense and around a league-average offense. That alone should tell you they aren’t just the plucky, play-hard sort of team from the past couple of years stealing wins whenever they could. This is a team vying for a playoff spot and if they stay healthy there’s no reason to think they won’t have a great chance at one.

Speaking of health, Philly’s fundamentals actually undersell the team a bit considering how awesome they’ve been whenever Joel Embiid is on the floor. He still sits some games to rest, this weekend being the first back-to-back he’s planning to play in his career, as reported, but when he’s on the floor the 76ers score 110 points per 100 possessions and allow 100.5. In other words, with Embiid they’re a Top 3 offense and a Top 3 defense at the same time. Their bench has been up and down, with a midseason acquisition of Trevor Booker fleshing out their depth some, but there’s little doubt that they can put out some of the best lineups in the entire league.

Joe: While the 76ers have dropped three straight, they are much better than they were last season. Of course, having Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid for most of the year will do that. Thanks to the duo, Philadelphia is one of the top defenses in the league and give up just 103.5 points per 100 possessions.

In terms of new additions, the 76ers signed sharpshooter J.J. Redick and big man Amir Johnson in free agency and drafted Markelle Fultz in the draft. They also traded for Trevor Booker in early December.

Of those guys, Redick has proven to be the most impactful, as the former Clipper is second on the team with 17.4 points per game on 41.1 percent shooting from deep. Above all else, Redick provides Philadelphia with a viable knockdown shooter for the first time in years. As such, the 76ers score 108.5 points per 100 possessions with the former Duke Blue Devil on the floor, which is good enough for second on the team behind Embiid.

3: How do you expect Miami to approach the combination of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid?

Couper: As good as the 76ers are when Embiid is on the court, they’re even better when he’s out there with Simmons. Embiid will be as difficult an assignment Hassan Whiteside will have all season, as he’s adept at scoring from just anywhere on the floor, able to pump-fake a jumper and get all the way to the rim, post-up, pass and, perhaps most troublesome for this game, draw a ton of fouls. Whiteside probably won’t get much help in the post lest Miami give up passes to Philly’s dangerous shooters, but on the perimeter the HEAT will have to pressure the ball so Embiid doesn’t get clean catches on the move and be ready to slide into the paint and help on all of his drives.

Simmons offers a slightly different tactical proposition. Unlike Embiid, Simmons has only taken 10 threes all season – it’s a testament to his ability with the ball in his hands that he still gets into the paint and shoots a high percentage. The HEAT could choose to play Simmons like most teams and sag well off – how teams used to play Rajon Rondo, for instance – to deter the drive, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Erik Spoelstra at least try pressuring the ball in pick-and-roll so Simmons can’t get comfortable see the floor and getting a full head of steam going into the paint. 

The tricky part for Miami will be the matchups. Simmons is the starting point guard, not a point forward like James Johnson, and he has a distinct size advantage over any of the HEAT’s guards – with a capable enough post game to take advantage. Josh Richardson could possibly draw the initial assignment, just as he’s defended larger players all season, with Goran Dragić and Tyler Johnson keying on J.J. Redick and Robert Covington, but we’ll probably also see time with James Johnson and Justise Winslow on Simmons to keep him off balance. And if Miami’s base defense doesn’t work, they can always play more conservatively and give Simmons and large cushion.

Joe: Given how dynamic both Embiid and Simmons are, it’ll definitely be tough to stop the two.

You may know by now that Embiid is one of the more versatile bigs in the game with his ability to score inside and outside with the best of them. In addition to shooting 66.8 percent in the restricted area, the 23-year-old also shoots 45.8 percent from mid-range (81-of-177). As a result, this will be one of the toughest covers of the season for Hassan Whiteside. That said, the HEAT center swatted Embiid twice in their preseason matchup on Oct. 13. We’ll see how things turn out this time around.

As for Simmons, the rookie is still working on his outside shot, but he can really do damage in the paint off the dribble. In fact, the 21-year-old is among league leaders with 17.3 drives per game and has attempted just 78 shots outside the paint this season. With that in mind, I’d expect Miami to play off him a little bit and go under the screen in pick-and-roll situations.

Either way, it’ll be fun watching Richardson defend the Aussie more often than not on Friday night.

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Highlights:

March 1 – 76ers at HEAT

Feb. 11 – HEAT at 76ers

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT have won two of three and are 29-22 on the year.
  • The 76ers have dropped three straight and enter the contest at 24-24.
  • Goran Dragić leads Miami in points (17.0) and assists (4.8) per game.
  • Joel Embiid leads Philadelphia in points (23.8), rebounds (11.0) and blocks (1.8) per game.

 

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 102.8 (26)
  • HEAT Defense: 103.8 (6)
  • 76ers Offense: 105.3 (14)
  • 76ers Defense: 103.5 (4)

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