It’s the game we’ve all been waiting for since the Sixers declined to offer Jimmy Butler a 5-year deal on June 30. Butler returns to face good friend Joel Embiid and many of his former Sixers teammates, enjoying life in retirement, having helped guide the Heat to an 11-3 start to the season.
Jimmy is thriving in his Chicago-like role as lone alpha dog, averaging 19.5 points on 44.0 percent shooting, 5.6 rebounds, 7.0 assists, and an NBA-best 2.8 steals per game. Both the assist and steal numbers would represent career-best marks, and if you don’t think Jimmy Buckets is going to do everything in his power to blaze hellfire on the Wells Fargo Center court tonight, you must have been (blissfully) unaware of the entire “You [explicit need me” saga.
Both teams are playing tonight on the second night of a back-to-back, although the Sixers had the luxury of sleeping in their own beds after a home win against the Spurs, while Miami had to travel from Chicago following a 116-108 victory over the Bulls. Joel Embiid will once again take the floor, because he feels load management is “some B.S.”
More likely, the league would have had a fit if Embiid rested during the ESPN-televised game last night, and the team would have needed to shoot Joel with an elephant tranquilizer dart to keep him from playing Jimmy tonight. I’d expect Embiid to receive a rest game for the next back-to-back that isn’t as high-profile.
Butler has played very well, but there are also plenty of other guys who have stepped up to propel the Heat to their hot start. Bam Adebayo is in the early running as a Most Improved Player candidate, playing some point forward and averaging terrific across-the-board production at 14.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.8 steals, and 1.4 blocks. Undrafted Kendrick Nunn is second on the team at 17.6 points per game on 48.8 shooting and 38.6 percent from 3. The Warriors must be sick to their stomachs they didn’t pluck him from their own G League club.
Moreover, Goran Dragic is excelling in his new sixth-man role. Rookie Tyler Herro is shooting 38.1 percent from 3. Duncan Robinson hit nine 3s against Cleveland earlier this week. The Heat have an incredibly deep roster is my point. They may not have the top-end talent of some of the other top teams in the league, but they suddenly have a plethora of attractive trade pieces, and could be well-positioned for Pat Riley to make a big move and slide the club into true contender status.
After sitting last night, Josh Richardson is being described as a game-time decision. I’m sure he’s going to do everything possible to push to play against his former club. Philadelphia’s starting lineup has still played just 70 minutes together this season, having a plus-17.9 net rating in that limited time. Hopefully, the Sixers will have on hands on deck to face a formidable Miami squad with a star strongly motivated to bring the heat.
Update: Josh Richardson will play tonight. Furkan Korkmaz is out with a sprained ankle.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Miami Heat
When: 7:30 pm ET
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBA TV
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic
Philadelphia: Josh Richardson (questionable - hip)
Miami: Dion Waiters (out - suspension for edible-induced panic attack); Justise Winslow (out - concussion); Derrick Jones Jr. (out - hip); KZ Ozpala (out - achilles)