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Sixers look for second win vs. Heat with more players nearing return

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The team is (gradually) getting back together.

Miami Heat v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The Philadelphia 76ers have been heavily depleted due to various injuries and COVID-19 health and safety protocols recently after Seth Curry’s positive test. Now, it looks like they’ll be able to start getting back on track in Thursday’s matchup against the Miami Heat.

Tobias Harris, Shake Milton and Matisse Thybulle have all been upgraded to probable, which would give the Sixers some much-needed depth on the perimeter again. Ben Simmons (left knee swelling) and Joel Embiid (back tightness) are both listed as probable as well. Players being overextended with far smaller rotations is a real concern all around the league, so having depth again will be hugely valuable for the Sixers.

Furkan Korkmaz is still out with an adductor strain, while Vincent Poirier and Seth Curry remain out for health and safety protocols. Doc Rivers said before the Sixers’ game against Atlanta on Monday that he’d spoken to Curry, and explained that Curry only had one bad day after testing positive and feels “great” now — he’s just been stuck in his basement, playing video games and watching basketball and football.

The Sixers’ last game against the Heat, a 137-134 overtime win, started off poorly in the first half. Embiid wasn’t performing too well, Simmons had a horrible game, and the team’s first-half defense was terrible, with constant lapses in effort, execution and communication.

Then the third quarter happened.

Embiid simply decided to take over the game. The Sixers often moved him into the middle of the floor where he could bully the Heat’s defenders in space and look for shooters to his left and right, and Embiid absolutely dominated. He scored 20 points on perfect 8-of-8 shooting in the third quarter alone, before hitting multiple clutch shots down the stretch to complete one of the best performances of his career. Embiid finished up with 45 points (shooting 16-of-23 and 13-of-13 from the free throw line), 16 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 steals and 1 block to carry the Sixers to a win.

The Sixers won’t be playing Thursday’s game against Miami on the second night of a back-to-back like last time. With a day’s rest and a few players likely returning, they should have more energy to help solidify their defensive issues which hurt them so much in the first game of this mini series.

If Simmons’ knee is feeling ok and he does play, the Sixers will need him to be far more aggressive attacking the rim. He had a weird, passive game on Tuesday with a bunch of bad decisions (perhaps his knee not feeling 100 percent was a factor), finishing with 12 assists but only 5 points, 2 field goal attempts, and 6 turnovers before he fouled out after 32 minutes.

As impressive as Tyrese Maxey has been for the Sixers in his increased minutes over the last few games, getting some extra shooting and ball handling back on the bench with Milton’s return would be a real help for the offense. If Harris returns as well and continues the aggressive, decisiveness offensive form he was in, then the Sixers should easily have more than they need to beat an extremely shorthanded Heat team.

Miami still has eight players listed as out for the game due to health and safety protocols, including Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic, Kendrick Nunn, Avery Bradley, Maurice Harkless, KZ Okpala and Udonis Haslem.

Slowing down Tyler Herro and containing Duncan Robinson’s off-ball movement and elite three-point shooting will once again be the main defensive focuses for the Sixers.

It’s troubling that so many games are going ahead when teams are dealing with the spread of COVID and overplaying undermanned rosters, but the NBA still has no plans to pause the season for now.

Finally, if you missed any details of Wednesday’s James Harden trade, as the Sixers missed out on the perennial MVP candidate to the Brooklyn Nets, you can catch up by reading here.

Game Details:

Who: Miami Heat vs. Philadelphia 76ers

When: 7:00pm ET

Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA

Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia

Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic

Follow: @Liberty_Ballers