The Philadelphia 76ers are making its first playoff appearance since 2011-12. Ben Simmons has stepped up his game in the absence of Joel Embiid leading the Sixers on an impressive 16-game win streak to wrap up the regular season. It the team would struggle mightily without Embiid anchoring the defense but instead has been a collective team effort. Surprise contributions from late-season acquisition Ersan Ilyasova has provided double-digit scoring in eight out of the last 10 games along with eight or more boards in that same stretch.
This production alone would garner curiosity as to how much time Ilyasova earns during the postseason should Saric or any member of the frontcourt struggles. Robert Covington and J.J. Redick continue to provide solid spacing on the floor with their accurate three-point shooting giving Simmons and Fultz room operate in the interior for a kick out opportunities. Speaking of Fultz, he earned his first career triple-double with a 13-10-10 line over the struggling Milwaukee Bucks in the regular season finale. His shot is not quite there yet but his vision and ability to find teammates will be critical when facing the tough defense of the Miami Heat guards. I would expect to see more T.J. McConnell in the postseason for his defense as they bring Fultz along slowly.
Joel Embiid is expected to be back sometime in this series and he will be greatly needed to combat the size of Hassan Whiteside who both seems to bring their A-game when facing off against each other. Centers seem to do well when going up against Whiteside since he is not a great help defender who prefers to live in the paint. Embiid is a threat from all over the court and can rack up opposing center fouls in minutes. It will be interesting to see who matches up with him.
The city of brotherly love has lots to look forward to with this scrappy squad as it looks to secure its first postseason series victory since beating Chicago back in 2011. Expect the lots of drama once Embiid returns in what should be one of the better first round matchups on the board.
The Miami Heat enter the postseason off a mediocre 5-5 finish over the last 10 games to close out the regular season. The big question here is which version of Hassan Whiteside we will get. When he is on they are a different team opposed to when he is not if the offense isn’t running through him. He recently lashed out his frustrations on the team for not playing in the 4th quarter of games calling it for the lack of better terms “bull***”. He then went on to say how plenty of teams in the NBA could use a center suggesting that his time is limited in Miami? He was reprimanded internally and has since seen the fourth quarter of games recently but has not really turned it into the production needed for this squad to go to the next level. He will need to clog the interior turning away penetrators with blocks and rim disruption forcing them outside.
James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk will be integral parts of Miami if they hope to advance past the Sixers in the first round. They fit the description of today’s NBA center who can guard positions three through five and can space the floor while using their speed to extend to the perimeter for the likes of Dario Saric and Robert Covington.
If the Heat hopes to upset the Sixers, they are going to need consistent guard play from all the guards but Josh Richardson is the one you need most. He is the one guard on this roster with considerable upside that can do a bit of everything. His shot-blocking ability and defensive prowess will be counted upon to slow down Robert Covington and J.J. Redick. He has really shown improvement this season under Spoelstra and will get heavy minutes throughout the series.
Goran Dragic has been better on the road this season than at home and will look to get Whiteside going early since there is no one size wise on the Sixers who can handle him down low until Embiid gets back. The Heat bench trio of Wayne Ellington, Tyler Johnson, and Rodney McGruder are as streaky as they come and when the shot is falling, they are a hard team to beat.
Lastly, Dwyane Wade will be the closer for a team who severely lacks one even though he is not the player he once was. This team throughout the season before the departure or Dion Waiters and the arrival of Wade became stagnant when they needed a go-to person in the closing seconds of a game.
Philadelphia is the favorite for good reason in this series due to Ben Simmons recent tear. However, if Joel Embiid misses more than two games I could see a Heat upset provided if the right Whiteside shows up. All things even though, the Sixers should win in six games.
Baseline Times Contributor