The Sixers will be heading to South Beach this evening to take on the Miami Heat. Do the Heat actually play in South Beach? What is South Beach? A neighborhood in Miami? A nickname for Miami? Just a beach?
Anyway, fans will be treated to a matchup between two potential Eastern Conference playoff teams. Brandon Di Perno (@Brandon_DiPerno) is a writer for Hot Hot Hoops. He was nice enough to join me to discuss tonight’s game.
Kevin F. Love: Okay, question #1: how have the Heat been playing lately?
Brandon Di Perno: The Heat have actually played pretty well lately. After hitting a wall in late January/early February where they lost 8 out of 9 games and fell in the standings, they’ve finally found some stability. A lot of that has to do with players returning from injury (i.e Kelly Olynyk and Rodney McGruder) but also the return of Dwyane Wade. He’s been a force in late game situations and his presence seems to have rejuvenated certain players, most notably Justise Winslow, who has turned a corner the last few games. The Heat still have their troubles, scoring droughts, free throws and blowing big leads, but at least they seem to be figuring things out at the right time.
KFL: With just 17 games remaining, what are the Heat’s goals to finish the season?
BDP: With 17 games left this season, Miami can’t leave anything to chance. Last season they missed the playoffs after an amazing late season run because of a tie breaker with Chicago (and probably because the Nets decided to needlessly sit their starters). They can’t let anything like that happen again, so I’d expect them to come out hard for the next 17 games with a goal of moving up in the standings.
KFL: The Heat win the game 111-103. What happened? (Aside from Dwayne Wade channeling his 2009 self.)
BDP: So the Heat win 111-103. This would most likely happen because Tyler Johnson, Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, and Hassan all played a good game. If not them, than perhaps Kelly Olynyk, Wayne Ellington or DWade delivered some fourth quarter heroics. For the Heat, that’s actually a pretty big win margin, usually they’ll go to the wire so if they win by eight points, Winslow probably slowed down Simmons and Embiid must have gotten into foul trouble.
KFL: What about the Sixers? How’s it look if they topple the Heat?
BDP: If Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have great games and Philly uses their role players to their potential, they have a good chance of toppling Miami. Sometimes the Heat have trouble with the hot hand, so if someone like JJ Redick or Robert Covington catches fire tonight it could spell doom for Miami. Also Philly would have to play solid defense and disrupt Miami’s scoring runs.
KFL: Who could be an X-Factor for the Heat tonight?
BDP: If he’s back, I’d say Wayne Ellington. The Heat have missed his outside shooting lately and when he’s on, he is extremely dangerous. If he’s out, I’d say Justise Winslow. Justise has looked like a new player recently, turning his elite defense into offense. If he’s able to keep that up tonight, he’s going to be a problem for Philly.
KFL: Last one: did Goran Dragic deserve the All-Star nod over Ben Simmons?
BDP: That’s tough to say, so I’m going to give you an indirect answer. I’d argue that Goran deserved it last season and at the time of this season’s selection Miami was looking to steal the third seed. Goran has also been great for the Heat this season as both a playmaker and scorer. Before Wade came back, he was the clear leader on the team and responsible for a lot of their success. So when the coaches made the selection, I think they based it on Miami’s position, his impact on the team and the team’s success as a whole.
Generally players won’t make the All-Star team in their rookie year — the last one to do it was Blake in 2011 — so I think Ben missing out was based on inexperience more than anything else. That’s not to say that he’s not playing at an All-Star level; he definitely is. If he continues playing like this throughout his career, he probably won’t miss an All-Star game for a very long time.
I let him slide a bit there on that last one; but we know who the REAL All-Star is.
Side note: Anecdotally, this Heat team reminds me of the 2011-2012 Sixers.