Heat-76ers Second Round Playoffs Preview
The Miami Heat-Philadelphia 76ers second round series shifted majorly over the last day or so, and it’s much bigger than just a change in the injury report. When a guy of Joel Embiid’s caliber is predicted to be out indefinitely with an orbital fracture, it forces a total change in the schematics both offensively and defensively.
Yes, it’s possible that he could end up returning at some point. But coming back in game 3 as Miami would have a hopeful 2-0 lead, means that Philly would have to win 4 of their next 5. Clearly not an easy path.
It isn’t a free injury report on the Heat’s side though either, since it still isn’t really expected that Kyle Lowry plays to kick off the series. Yet as we’ve seen, they’ve got guys ready to step up.
On the defensive side of the ball, like I said, there’s a total change in plans. Instead of worrying about the stress Embiid puts on the defense inside, it’s a full turnaround back to perimeter play.
And well, the Heat have had pretty good luck with that plan as of late.
Is it as simple as saying keeping execution similar to the Trae Young game-plan? Eh, I wouldn’t go that far. In simple terms they will blitz out in similar fashion, force the ball out of James Harden and Tyrese Maxey’s hands, and force the surrounding cast to beat them.
This will be an offensive based outlook piece, but I must start this off with some of the expected match-ups defensively.
It’s possible that the 76ers go small with guys like Paul Reed and Paul Millsap, but it feels inevitable that they blend right into DeAndre Jordan. Bam Adebayo will get that match-up on paper, but with the switching scheme, he won’t see much time on him.
PJ Tucker will start out on James Harden, not just because he can generally slow down his ex-teammate, but since that Tucker-Adebayo PnR switch can be abused even more. Now Adebayo is on Harden while Tucker waits to double down low as Jordan plants in the dunker spot, which is a win-win for the Heat.
But the other three 1-on-1 match-ups could get tricky. It’s pretty easy to say Maxey-Vincent, Green-Strus, and Butler-Harris, but I see other possibilities. Yes, that may be the initial look, but keep an eye out for Miami pressuring Tobias Harris into being a primary force with a “mismatch.”
Just like they did with Gallinari and Collins, putting a Lowry, Vincent, or Strus on him can work when the guy isn’t a true inside powerhouse. The goal is to force the opposing offense to worry about feeding him constantly, which plays into their scheme.
This would now allow Jimmy Butler to size down to Tyrese Maxey, which is ultimately the goal. Just like he did down the stretch in the final match-up, he will be searching for Herro’s and Strus’ off the switches.
But can I tell you the difference in a planned playoff series?
Jordan in place of Embiid means those switches won’t be as easily operated. There will be dip off opportunities to pressure him, which circles back to wanting that Tucker switch down to the box.
So, aside from all of those Erik Spoelstra adjustments to the adjustments that are coming, let’s take a bit of a look into some of the offensive stuff that will be a primary focus. Much of this is the three primary players on this Heat squad, but let’s start off with the soft spot in the defense…
Corner Shooters Getting a Call
We talked a lot about spot-up shooting in the last series against the Hawks, since the goal was to put pressure on the defense as much as possible, since once they were forced into rotations, Atlanta was basically in a horrible spot because now it’s swing-swing-drive-kick.
For this series it isn’t the same factors. It isn’t about moving East and West to force rotations. It’s about moving North and South to force the pull-down.
Looking at the first clip above, this is the base look. Four guys spaced out on the perimeter with one screener coming out.
Vincent and Dedmon run the pick and roll, Maxey slides down, and now it’s a kick to Strus for the open corner three. By design, this Philly defense will consistently help down heavily for tags, which calls for constant on-ball threats who can create for others. (Hello Victor Oladipo)
It’s one thing for the primary shooting threats to take advantage of their open opportunities, but how about when Philly’s adjustments become making a certain guy work?
And well, when a team has threats all over the floor to open up, PJ Tucker is going to be the guy they choose to sag off of. Looking at the second clip above, we can see the beauty in slowly backing down to that bottom box.
Part of this play had to do with the scramble switches happening all over, leaving Maxey on Adebayo, since a quick slip and feed down low led to an easy bucket. But forgetting the outcome of this play, just look at Tucker in that weak-side corner.
That extra kick will constantly be sitting there in this series. I’m going to talk about the main guys contributions now, but it’s not crazy to say that a big Tucker/Strus game could be enough to keep Miami’s offense afloat.
Jimmy Butler’s Jumper Being a Shift?
Jimmy Butler has been shooting the ball extremely well from deep down the stretch of the season, and he knocked down 7 threes on 44% shooting in the opening series.
The other part of his game that looked elite over that 5 game span was his driving game. He shot 30 of 41 less than 10 feet from the rim, just through complete dominance and control off the attack.
Yet if we were picking out the very minor section of negatives in his shot profile so far, the mid-range pull-up wasn’t at its best in that period of time. So far in the playoffs, he’s taken 23 middy pull-ups, while only knocking down 7 of them.
I’m not mentioning this to say that’s a major worry, but it’s to say that’s the shot that’ll be sitting there for him to take all series long.
Let me start with the obvious: getting away from the “pull-up” aspect of it for a second, there’s nothing Butler loves more than a post-up with a small on his back. Not because he enjoys overpowering them with size, but due to the fact he can shoot over the top of them with ease.
Maxey will be the guy he’s eyeing all series. In that first clip, it’s bump-bump-turn-rise up. Pretty simple formula for him, but I guess that’s the hope for opening up the deeper momentum pull-up game.
He wasn’t asked to attack smalls as much in the opening series as I personally expected. He definitely went to it, but the spam wasn’t needed since the overall offense was flowing for the Heat all series long.
Going back to that second clip above, you’ll notice something immediately: yes you may see a tough Bam bucket in traffic, but the screen navigation from the action has been pretty consistent.
They’re going to go under.
If Jimmy Butler can knock down that specific shot early in the series, it’ll honestly be a hard thing to both adjust and recover to, since it basically blows up the whole defensive plan.
Once you’re being asked to fight over screens against Butler, that’s when he has you. He can keep you on his back, go 2-on-1, and convert or get fouled on almost every trip. It’s one of his strengths.
And as Erik Spoelstra said after practice Friday when I asked him about the Philly match-up, “It’s about who can get to who. Who can get to whose strengths.”
Tyler Herro is on Philly’s Mind. Yet it Still Falls into their Hands.
Tyler Herro didn’t have the greatest first round offensive series, but guess what: it wasn’t supposed to be a Herro series. As noted before that opening round, it was a time for Butler to turn it up with the defense falling into his strengths, and a match-up for shooters to prosper.
Yet now it’s pretty clear that this match-up will allow one thing with or without Embiid: Tyler Herro to shine.
No matter if it’s Embiid or Jordan standing under that rim, Herro will be eyeing that elbow to get open shot after open shot. But actually, the 76ers won’t allow that either.
When zooming out a bit from numbers, I personally felt that some of Herro’s most promising moments came against Philly this season.
Why is that? Well, Philly had adjustments for him. It was that they wanted to chase him as much as possible to make him uncomfortable. Yet Herro had in-game adjustments for those adjustments, and never seemed in any form of discomfort.
Looking at the clips above, it’s two huge examples of smart, instinctive basketball plays off the ball. First one looks like he’s going to flow into a hand-off from Butler out of the post split, but he dips on that idea quickly. Swift cut, catch and settle, and now it’s an easy one hand floater in the middle of the floor. Yeah, right where he wants to be.
Fast forwarding to the last match-up, we saw something similar. These aren’t coincidental occurrences. It’s watching enough film to know how the defense will treat you. Or better yet, recognizing that the defense knows you fit into their defensive weaknesses, so it’s the initial adjustment.
In that second clip, Herro sets the baseline screen for Butler so Tucker can make the entry pass. Herro appears to be clearing out, but then out of nowhere, he changes direction and finds space under the rim as Butler finds him.
I’ll say it again: this will be a Herro series. On the surface we can acknowledge the drop, but when diving in deeper, it’s about the responses available. (Plus speaking of responses, though Herro was abused late in that game defensively, they now have the all defense late-game adjustment in their pocket if needed.)
Looking at the winnable match-ups for Bam Adebayo……….Oh, All of Them
When entering the offensive tablet of Bam Adebayo’s scoring approach in a particular series, it usually starts in the same department of actions that should be run.
Finding ways for guards to screen for him as he is the headliner of a certain set, allowing him to find favorable switches off the attack.
For instance, that would be the mindset heading into a first round series against the Atlanta Hawks, yet in this Philly match-up, it isn’t about finding the mismatches. They’re already sitting there ready to be taken.
Like I said earlier, Jordan would probably be the big that slots in for Embiid, but other than him, it’s a whole bunch of smaller options at the 5. Reed is next up, Millsap behind him, maybe some Georges Niang thrown in there as well?
The point is that Adebayo doesn’t have the all around size advantage like this on many occasions. So this is the time to take advantage.
Looking at the two clips above, he showed in the latest match-up without Embiid that he wasn’t afraid to go at these match-ups. Embracing the bump off the face-up against Niang for the bucket, then bodying Millsap until a wide open lane opened up for him.
Those two clips are fun examples, but I think the obvious tweak would be not to turn into that face-up too early. Don’t bail out the opposing defender by letting them recover. Using some of that shoulder size to get a deep seal and operate in that low post will be ideal for this series.
Not having Lowry early on makes this a tad tougher since he’s the guy that can constantly feed him in those spots, but now the next person to set him up on the roster will have to be the coaching staff.
Instead of placing him higher in the offense to run actions or drive down the right slot, this may be an early sign to let him screen, roll, and baseline roam before finding position on either block. Last series was one that I labeled as a perimeter one, yet this has the chance at being quite the opposite. Well, at least until the Embiid injury status shifts.
Battle of the Zones?
Finally, I wanted to close this thing out with one of my additional thoughts. We know Miami has the option to go to their 2-3 zone, which is even more likely when Vincent and Martin share the floor together, but it feels like there will be some extra openings for that to be used.
For one, Miami potentially going small early in the series without Embiid could blend into this idea as well.
We saw it really flatten out Philly’s guards early in the season, which by the way, it must be noted that “Philly’s guards” did not include James Harden all season long which could make prep a bit more layered.
When I say flattened out, the non-Harden minutes could lead to stagnant movement North and South. There’s no big down low to begin their action with, meaning it’s a whole lot of reliance on Harris mid-range play and Maxey highlight maneuvers.
For example here, if you look at the second clip first, the stagnant perimeter standing is on display. This isn’t a zone possession for Miami, but it gives you an idea of how this can counteract some of the 76ers’ lineups.
Now it allows guys like Martin and Vincent to operate as free safeties when the ball swings to the corner or deep wing, which is exactly the move Miami’s defense wants you to make.
The reason this could be the “battle of the zones” is due to the 76ers playing a good amount of it in past Miami-Philly match-ups this year. In the first clip above, the defense was pretty much out of place from the start, but it’s a good showing of why Miami likes this look.
They can just play the back-line. One of the main themes of Martin’s good games the past 3 times he faced the 76ers was because of his baseline roaming. All that is needed, as seen above, is one entry pass in-between that low man and the big in the middle.
Once that pass is made, a guy like Tucker or Butler can facilitate from there as the defense is forced to turn their backs on the play. Butler throws the bounce pass in the middle, Adebayo lays it in with ease. And that’s with* Embiid sitting in the middle.
This should be a pretty intriguing series with or without Embiid, and I’m not saying through pure competitiveness, but just simply the adjustment battle that will take place after the Heat just leveled off Young in the series prior.
“There is no 9 man rotation right now. This is a playoff rotation,” Erik Spoelstra said back in Atlanta about a week ago. The reason that’s true is while they do like to rotate 9, it’s probably going to be different from game one to game two. And even crazier, it’ll probably be different from the second quarter to the third quarter.
But if I had to give my expected nine to open up game one, I’d say the starters would look like: Vincent-Strus-Butler-Tucker-Adebayo, while the bench is Herro-Oladipo-Robinson-Martin. Yet if they want to counter some of Philly’s small lineups with a big, or just want extra rebounding, Dewayne Dedmon will be waiting to provide competent minutes.
My quick recap though: if that drop big is sitting there, spam the dribble hand-offs with shooters like Strus and Robinson. When they go small, run sets for Adebayo to feast in the low post. And well, go to Tyler Herro a lot. He will have plenty of advantages in the gaps of this defense, and I’m sure that he will be the shining piece in this round.
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