The last time the 76ers and Miami Heat squared up, Miami was riding an improbable 13-game winning streak, escaping the allure of tanking by being (hashtag) too good. Joel Embiid sat out the night his meniscus tear was leaked, Jahlil Okafor was held in staging for an expected trade, and the Sixers had lost four in a row. So predictably, the Sixers went on to win that game, behind strong games from the front line starters, Dario Saric, and T.J. McConnell.
Tonight, the teams square off again (7:30 EST in Miami), but with a few changes. Here are three things to look for:
- Injuries and roster changes in less than a month
Joel Embiid still remains out, as his knee slowly disintegrates into nothing. Jahlil Okafor was akwardly re-wrapped into the Sixers’ program, albeit on a minutes limit that seemingly arose out of nowhere. Ersan Ilyasova and Nerlens Noel have been traded with only Justin Anderson to show for it on the active roster (Tiago Splitter is sitting out, continuing to collect those checks). The Sixers’ roster is a shell of what it could have been just two weeks ago.
The Heat should have Dion Waiters back tonight, who they sorely missed in their first meeting. As a staunch opponent to ever bringing Dion Waiters to Philadelphia, it’s still jarring how much better he is than Miami’s other wing options. He’s averaging 16 points per game with middling efficiency numbers, as he’s wont to do.
And none of the above included four players across the two teams that has significantly impacted their trajectories - Ben Simmons and Chris Bosh will miss the entire season (Bosh under certainly different circumstances with recurring blood clots), while Jerryd Bayless and Justise Winslow will sit out the vast majority of it.
- Center Depth
The Sixers all of a sudden have too few centers to play against an opponent which historically forces the Sixers into foul trouble. The team has no one who can size up to Hassan Whiteside when Embiid sits out. Okafor and Richaun Holmes are no match for the 7 foot tall, 280-pound monster in the middle.
The Sixers should look to sign a big to a 10-day contract for depth prior to tonight’s game. Notorious mass foot-injurer Shawn Long has been tearing up the D-League and might get the look, even if he’d get roundly booed in Philadelphia if he ever played at home.
- Super Dario
Dario Saric will likely be named rookie of the month for February, and he should have a favorable match up tonight against any non-James Johnson power forward Miami tries to pit against him. Dario scored 19 in the last game against Miami, contributing to his 17 point, 8 rebound, 3 assist average from the month.
The volume is impressive relatively to the barren hellscape that is this year’s non-Sixers rookie class, but he could stand to improve his efficiency. Dario shot just 25% on three pointers for the month and 44% overall from the floor, and his efficiency numbers from the year are disappointing. But Saric has learned to take advantage of mismatches against smaller players recently which bodes very well for the future. Bigs typically don’t have his handle or court vision, and a modern day mismatch (big matched against small) is turned into a net positive for the Sixers with Saric on the court.
Against Luke Babbitt? He’ll have an advantage pretty much everywhere. The Sixers will need Saric to be productive to have a chance tonight, given everything else that’s not in their favor.