Joel Embiid returned to the Philadelphia 76ers’ lineup, but is that a large enough variable to alter the outcome of the series?
Miami Heat are the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. The team relies on its defense and physical strength to overwhelm opponents. This style of basketball travels well in the playoffs.
The Heat completely dominated the Atlanta Hawks in round one of the playoffs, and it looked like the 76ers without Embiid would follow the same fate.
But Embiid returned and even though it was obvious he wasn’t at the peak of his powers, he changed things for the better for the Sixers. Suddenly, the Heat didn’t completely control the paint. The pick-and-roll with Embiid and James Harden was different than the previous versions with other players. And perhaps the most important thing, Bam Adebayo’s offensive contribution dwindled. Instead of pouring in 24 and 23 points as he did in Games 1 and 2, he only managed to score 9 in Game 3.
No shade at the Miami Heat, but this isn’t exactly a juggernaut number one seed. Minus Bam’s 24 points – he’s not getting to that number against Embiid, where will the Heat turn to get additional points? Jimmy Butler is nice, and Tyler Herro is another player who can generate offense off the dribble and score from the outside. However, the rest of the offense is dependent on some formation of Max Strus, Duncan Robinson, and PJ Tucker hitting outside shots – yes, PJ, the football player masquerading as a basketball player, your team needs you to hit the corner three. Maybe Victor Oladipo and Kyle Lowry can provide the scoring required when the outside shooting disappears.
With a healthy Joel Embiid, the Philadelphia 76ers are arguably the better roster. The lineup of Embiid, James Harden – even the facilitator version, Tyrese Maxey, and Tobias Harris should offer more reliable scoring than Miami’s counter of Butler, Herro, and ?. The question remains the same for the Sixers – can Embiid stay healthy enough to complete the playoff season?
Short-term: buy the Sixers at home.
Embiid and the Sixers should win all their home games. Even though the Sixers starting rotation should outscore Miami’s, the Sixers need Danny Green’s three-point shooting, and he has proven more reliable at home than on the road.
Long-term: buy the Heat to win the series.
The Heat caught a break with Embiid’s absence in Games One and Two. Perhaps, the Heat would have prevailed anyway, but now all the Heat need to do is hold home court, and they move on to the conference finals. It’s easy to poke holes in the Heat as a number one seed, but they defend well and make up for their sometimes-erratic scoring by gathering in offensive rebounds. Plus, Strus, PJ, and others usually shoot better at home. Also, don’t rule out a Butler 45-point game, either.