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Sixers begin short road trip with test against Miami Heat

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

The Sixers are back to winning. After their recent seven-game win streak came to an end against the Hornets earlier this week, they turned things around with a comfortable 111-99 win against the Celtics on Friday night. Philly played some sharp defense, Joel Embiid had no trouble putting up 25 points with 13 rebounds and six assists, and Tyrese Maxey had one of the best shooting nights of his young career with 23 points and 5-of-7 shooting from three to help lead the way.

On Saturday, to finish off their back-to-back, the Sixers will be taking on the Heat, who’ve won four straight games and nine of their last 11. Miami is also coming off a win on Friday, after beating Atlanta 124-118.

The Heat have played admirably well while dealing with various player absences and two of their stars, Jimmy Butler (24 games played) and Bam Adebayo (18 games played), both missing significant time this season.

Despite all that’s been against them, the Heat still sit at second place in the Eastern Conference at 27-15, and rank second in offensive rating and eighth in defensive rating. They’ve had plenty of role players provide solid minutes, from Caleb Martin to Max Strus and PJ Tucker, who’s fit in seamlessly at both ends of the floor. Tyler Herro is also having a career year with his increased production, averaging 20.8 points and 4.1 assists off the bench. As always, Erik Spoelstra is maximizing his talent and coaching smart, cohesive play at both ends of the floor. And along with Kyle Lowry’s excellent play, whether he’s been operating in a more complementary role next to his co-stars or leading the team without Butler and Bam, the Heat have impressed.

Lowry fits perfectly in Miami, and has been huge for the team in Butler and Adebayo’s absence (the latter remains out after having thumb surgery on Dec. 5). While Lowry’s shooting percentages haven’t exactly been off the charts at only 32.6 percent from three, he’s helped keep the offense humming with his range and shooting off the bounce, pick-and-roll craft, excellent passing, and quick improvisational reads when he’s moving around with or without the ball. Lowry may not have the flashiest scoring numbers either, but has still averaged 14.7 points and 9.2 assists over his last 20 games. He’s giving the Heat just what they need from him, whether that’s working off the ball or leading the offense.

Guarding Lowry will likely be the main task for Tyrese Maxey in this outing. As Lowry bombs away from deep off ball screens and off the catch, and wisely shifts around to relocate into space without the ball, Maxey will have to be alert and active to him in check.

The Sixers will also be tasked with handling Butler, who returned on Friday against Atlanta with 23 points (7-of-13 shooting), 10 assists and two steals after missing three games with an ankle injury. Butler has been phenomenal since arriving in Miami and his two-way play has been impressive yet again this year when he’s been available. We all know how he thrives getting downhill and playing physically through contact to get to the rim and draw a ton of fouls. If Matisse Thybulle (who’s been playing well lately) spends most of the game guarding Butler, avoiding too many fouls and not getting overpowered on drives will be the main tests.

One advantage the Sixers should have in this game is Embiid’s matchup — which, admittedly, is usually the case. After Dewayne Dedmon started at center most of last month with Adebayo sidelined, rookie 7-footer Omer Yurtseven entered the starting lineup on Dec. 26, and has been fairly productive as a rebounder, roller, and occasional passing hub/hand-off screener. Embiid should be able to assert himself attacking the rim and getting to the free throw line, though.

With the Heat’s defense, depth, and an offense led by Lowry and now Butler again, Saturday’s matchup will be the toughest the Sixers have had in a while.

Game Info

Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Miami Heat

When: 8:00 pm ET, January 15, 2022

Where: FTX Arena, Miami, FL

Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus

Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic

Follow: @Liberty_Ballers