Mateo’s Hoop Diary: The 76ers are a tough matchup for the Heat in the Play-In Tournament

The smoke has cleared: the Heat is facing the 76ers in Philadelphia for the Play-In Tournament. It’s not an ideal matchup for the guests, but a win reduces the arduous road in the East Playoffs by having the crew play the Knicks in round one. A loss would force them to duke it out with the winner of the 9 & 10 Game for a chance to go at the 64-win Celtics.

The last time the Heat saw the 76ers in the Postseason was two years ago, and PJ Tucker was around to box out and help defend Joel Embiid. Ascending sophomore Nikola Jović and Thomas Bryant will need to be stars of the dirty work if Kevin Love can’t play (left arm stinger).

But the 76ers won’t be handicapped by a slower James Harden, who plays scared in big moments. Instead, the reigning MVP’s running mate is Tyrese Maxey, a booming All-Star with jet engines in his sneakers who sometimes resembles The Answer.

And Doc Rivers’ predictable offense can’t foil the 76ers by bailing out the other team’s defense. All the movement in coach Nick Nurse’s attack makes the Philly outfit harder to guard.

Presently, the 76ers, victors of 25 of 41 home games, are 4.5-point favorites. When Embiid plays, the team’s win rate rises to 79.5% (31-8), and in those outings, Philadelphia scores 120.7 points per game on 48.4% shooting. Their opponents record 110.3 points with 45.8% accuracy.

On top of that, Philly is second-best behind the Celtics in taking care of the ball, losing it 12 times per contest. The league average for turnovers is 13.6, per Basketball Reference.

On Sunday, coach Nick Nurse didn’t want to say whether guard De’Anthony Melton would be available Wednesday, but he left the door open for the future. Melton has been a part of two of the seven most-used 76ers lineups this season, and both have the highest point differential on the team (33.3 & 25.7), per Cleaning the Glass.

On Wednesday, the starting lineup the Heat will likely see is Maxey, former Heatle Kyle Lowry, Kelly Oubre, Tobias Harris and Embiid. Their top reserves will be Nicolas Batum, an older but versatile switchblade, and Paul Reed, a dependable rebounder and roller.

The Heat’s two largest problems in this game are Philadelphia’s frontline size and Maxey’s speed. Adebayo will guard Embiid to start, but keeping him on the assignment too long could waste his energy for offense. The last time both groups faced off on April 5 in Miami, the visitors out-executed the Heat late. Adebayo also checked Embiid for almost five minutes, giving up six of 12 field goals, including three of four from deep.

On offense, Miami’s center converted six of 15 attempts in the last encounter.

And in that game, Maxey was 1A. His primary defenders were Caleb Martin, Butler and Rozier. He scored four of five baskets against Martin, none in front of Butler and four of five over Rozier. The zone didn’t slow him down much, either, as he dribbled into its heart for jumpers and floaters.

Don’t forget that Oubre thrashed the Heatles on the same night for 18 points, downing 57.1% of his tries, but notably, seven of those came in the fourth quarter. Over the last seven matches, Oubre is recording 22.3 points, making 48.9% of his shots, with 6.6 rebounds nightly.

There is no doubt, now that Don Embiid has returned, his squad is much stronger than Butler’s.

But the Heat has a chance.

It starts with Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra striking a deal with Lucifer so Duncan Robinson, Love and Rozier regain perfect health, followed by the return of thermonuclear Butler, Adebayo channeling Alonzo Mourning, and Tyler Herro devouring drop coverage and blitzes.

The Heat is slightly sharper on the road and plays well when expectations are low. But Butler hasn’t been the same beast this season. While taking 14.4 drives per game, which is good enough for 16th in the NBA, he attempts 5.1% fewer buckets at close range.

At 0-3 feet, he is registering 67.5% of his ventures. It’s the second-lowest mark since he got to Miami in 2019-20, but in his first year, he took 7.7% more shots in the restricted area.

With Butler, the drops in production have caused a surplus of observers to question his hunger to compete. But he is 34.6 years old now. It shouldn’t stagger anyone, considering the juice he spent in three of the Heat’s last four Playoff runs, including two trips to the NBA Finals. And he’s been going through it personally after losing a family member earlier in the year.

His Miami tenure has been the NBA’s equivalent of turning water into wine. He’s made doubters into believers, and he can add to his folklore with a vintage performance- one with at least 14 free throw attempts and 10 rebounds.

Adebayo can’t go soft on the team, settling for outside jumpers. The 76ers will pack the lane against him, and he should take open looks, but he must assist Butler in putting Philadelphia’s backline in foul trouble. On defense, he must do his best to avoid needing the double team when defending Embiid because the 76ers splash 38.3% of hoisted trays when the MVP plays.

And Herro , who is excellent pick-and-roll option with Adebayo, will need to capitalize against defensive breakdowns to give him and Butler a boost. Furthermore, he can’t let Maxey outwork him badly.

An upset won’t come easy, but Spoelstra said he is looking forward to Wednesday’s bout after the Heat’s tune-up win over the Raptors in the regular season finale. “It’ll be a great environment. Philly’s been playing fantastic recently, so we know what to expect there. It’s for competitors only. It should be a lot of fun.”

When asked about an advantage to playing on Wednesday instead of Tuesday, Spoelstra said, “Could have been Tuesday and we would have been ready to rock.”

In the locker room, Butler addressed the press. He said, “It will be a show.”

For exclusive Miami Heat content and chats, subscribe to Off the Floor:






0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *