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Sixers-Heat Preview: cooling off the NBA’s hottest team

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How do you beat a team that can’t lose anymore?

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

When the Sixers traveled to South Beach to take on the Heat just over a week ago, Miami was looking to extend their winning streak to double digits.

Led by Hassan Whiteside, who dominated the Joel Embiid-less Sixers’ front line to the tune of 30 points and 23 rebounds, the Heat exploded for 125 points in a 23 point rout.

Since then, Miami has extended their streak to 13 with wins over the Milwaukee Bucks, Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Brooklyn Nets. They went from a surefire high lottery team to competing for a playoff spot, as just two games separate them from the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.

To provide an idea of how good the Heat have been since their win streak started on Jan. 17, they’re second in the NBA in field goal percentage (49 percent), first in three-point percentage (42 percent), and sixth in defensive rating (103.7).

Somewhat lost in the hubbub of the Heat’s magical run has been the scorching hot play of Philadelphia native Dion Waiters. He’s averaging 20.6 points and 4.8 assists during Miami’s magical run while shooting 50 percent from both the field and the three-point line. He carved the Sixers up for 21 points on 5-6 shooting from beyond the arc when the two teams faced off earlier in the month.

However, the 25-year-old may not be available for Saturday’s game in his hometown. He’s missed the Heat’s past two games with an ankle injury, and is currently listed as questionable against the Sixers. Second-year shooting guard Josh Richardson’s status for the game is also unknown. Richardson has not been a part of Miami’s win streak as he continues to recover from a foot injury suffered against the Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 6.

The Sixers are dealing with some injuries of his own. Joel Embiid has been ruled out of the game as he continues to rest his injured knee. The 22-year-old has missed the team’s last eight games, and with just two more left to play before the All-Star break, it seems likely that we won’t see him back in action until Feb. 24 against the Washington Wizards at the very earliest.

Philadelphia has certainly struggled without him. They’re 2-6 since his most recent injury, and are now 5.5 games back from the eighth seed. However, they are coming off an exciting 112-111 victory over the Orlando Magic, where T.J. McConnell hit his second game winning shot of the season. Dario Saric carried most of the offensive load for the Sixers in that game, scoring 24 points on just 15 shots. That was his second 20 point game in a row, and he’s averaging 15 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.8 steals while shooting 40 percent from three over the past five games.

If the Sixers want to be the first team to knock off the Heat in nearly a month, they’ll certainly need Saric’s shooting, and potentially some more late game heroics from McConnell as well.