52 wins — the Sixers first 50-win season since 2000-2001.
A 16 game winning streak — the Sixers longest winning streak over the course of one season.
A playoff berth — first appearance since 2011-2012.
Let’s not forget the incoming persona of “MF Doom-biid”:
Oh, yeah. It’s lit, everyone.
This Saturday, the Sixers start their playoff run at 8 p.m. on ESPN against the 6th seed Miami Heat. The two teams split their four-game regular season series. The Sixers won the first two match-ups, and the Heat have won the last two.
To get some perspective on our opponents in round one, I have enlisted the help of Matt Pineda — senior writer for “Hot Hot Hoops”, the SB Nation site that focuses on the Miami Heat.
Let’s just kick this off right. Why does Erik Spoelstra not get any “Coach of the Year” love?
Mostly because the Heat are exactly what people predicted they would be: slightly above average. He’s done a good job managing his team but nothing spectacular has happened. I think everyone respects him, but you have to do something unexpected to be Coach of the Year.
Miami is 4th in the league in opponent’s points per game and 7th in DRtg this year. What do they do so well, defensively?
They slow the game down and make possession more valuable first and foremost. The Heat typically only run in transition with Dragic or Winslow getting a head of steam. Secondly, they are a very smart defensive team. They play the odds and will give up the worst shot they can. Whiteside erases some mistakes and can make it harder on defenses to get their preferred shot. Josh Richardson is an elite defender. Miami hangs its hat on the defensive end.
How big a blow was it losing Philadelphia product Dion Waiters?
It was big because Waiters was pretty much the only player capable of creating his own shot consistently before Dwyane Wade arrived. He’s a closer and a scorer, and Miami needs both of those. So without Waiters, they can be sad to watch in the clutch sometimes because you don’t know where they will go and who is going to be to handle that. They have plenty of depth to recover from it, but the intangible of creating a shot is missed.
Would the team have more or less than 44 wins with Waiters?
I don’t think it would have made much of a difference. He would have won some but he would have lost some as well for them.
Between Tyler Johnson and Justise Winslow, who has upset fans (and your site) more?
Probably Justise Winslow. We know what we are getting with Tyler. He’s pretty consistent even if he has an off night every once in a while. What is disappointing about him is what his contract does next season (jumping to $19 million), but that’s not our worry. Winslow is the one who shows flashes of greatness and then disappears. He has always been a really solid defender and does the dirty work, but the frustration comes from having a #10 overall pick who can’t shoot. We want him to be a threat offensively, and he is not on the perimeter. He’s not a scorer except in transition.
Embiid’s comments aside (“soft”), I believe Hassan Whiteside is the second best center in the Eastern Conference behind Embiid. (Drummond is third because of his free throw shooting, and Porzingis is a power forward.) Whiteside hasn’t been a 20 ppg scorer, yet, though. Is there any reason?
Yes. He is not a featured part of the offense and he doesn’t play enough. Whiteside rarely gets the ball for the intent of scoring. Most of his points come on second chance opportunities or lobs. The Heat give him the freedom to shot when he earns the rebound. Outside of that, the offense runs through Dragic or James Johnson and not dumping it down low. Whiteside has also sat out plenty of fourth quarters for a number of reasons, but he just simply doesn’t play a lot of minutes.
The year is 2018, not 2008, so obviously he isn’t what he once was, but how good can “Playoff Dwyane Wade” be at age 36?
I don’t know. He doesn’t have to be. The Heat just need nine solid minutes in the first half and then be able to control the closing of the game. He calms them and gives them confidence, but we are all OK with living and dying by Wade’s choices.
Is Goran Dragic 100%? Dragic missed a game last week with a bum ankle, and he’s shooting 8/20 in the two games in his return. As of today, it’s unclear if he’ll start Game 1.
Probably not, but he will play like it. Dragic doesn’t slow down or stop if he is in the game. I wouldn’t think anything changes with him. Expect him to be aggressive and leading the offense.
How concerned are you and the fan base that the Heat are going into the playoffs in the bottom tenth of team points per game (currently 23rd scoring 103.4 ppg)?
Very — especially against the Sixers. We know they can score and sometimes easily because of transition and the play of Ben Simmons. It is hard sometimes for the Heat to manufacture points. When they can get Wayne Ellington going they are really good, but they are also capable of winning games when they only shoot 40%. It is a worry because of the opponent.
Joel Embiid will miss at least game one of this series (maybe one and two) recovering from a concussion and a fractured orbital bone in his left eye. In those one or two games, who will the Heat look to neutralize (or at least slow down)?
I think it has to be Ben Simmons. I don’t know how to do that, but it starts with scoring more and keeping him out of transition. It also will consist of putting some size on him, which I think they will do with Richardson and James Johnson.
When Embiid returns, will he be the primary focus of Miami’s defense?
Yes, absolutely. Mostly, Embiid’s ability to hit the three is what makes it hard for Whiteside to guard him. The pick and roll/pop/switch will be the single most difficult thing to defend and the Sixers will exploit it plenty. For the most part, I think Whiteside will be able to handle him on the block, but it is Embiid’s perimeter game that will cause the Heat issues.
In the interest of total objective honesty, who wins this series and in how many games?
The Sixers are winning this series, but I think it goes seven games. I really think the Heat’s experience will allow them to extend this series, but I think the pace the Sixers play at will help them have the advantage to win. Here’s to hoping I’m wrong!
Say, “hi” to Matt on Twitter via @pinedaHEAT, but be cool about it. Let’s not upset the basketball gods by being unnecessarily merciless to another team’s fan base.