In what could be a preview of a first-round playoff series, the Philadelphia 76ers battle against the Miami Heat at Wells Fargo Center for their last home game of the regular season. After the Boston Celtics won on Wednesday, Philaldelphia is now locked into the Eastern Conference’s No. 3 seed. In fact, the top-five seeds are all finalized. The Milwaukee Bucks are first, Boston is second, the Cleveland Cavaliers are fourth and the New York Knicks are fifth.
Cavaliers-Knicks is the only series already determined between both conferences. If the Sixers defeat the Heat Thursday, it’ll lock in a Sixers-Brooklyn Nets first-round duel. If Miami wins, its hopes of avoiding the Play-In Tournament are preserved for another day.
Philadelphia is 52-27, fifth in net rating (plus-4.3), third in offensive rating (118.4) and 10th in defensive rating (114.0). Miami is 42-37, 20th in net rating (minus-0.5), 25th in offensive rating (113.1) and eighth in defensive rating (113.6). Brooklyn is 44-36 and holds the tiebreaker over the Heat, so one more loss for Miami over its next three games ends any chances of snagging the sixth seed. A Nets win in either of their final two games also does the trick.
Nikola Jovic (back spasms) is out for the Heat. Bam Adebayo (left quadriceps tendon strain) and Kyle Lowry (left knee soreness) are questionable. On the Sixers side, Tyrese Maxey (neck stiffness), De’Anthony Melton (right calf tightness) and P.J. Tucker (right calf tightness) are all questionable. Neither Joel Embiid nor James Harden are listed.
Given Philadelphia is confirmed as the three seed and Miami could be its first-round opponent, on top of the potential absences from three of its top six players, it’s a little tougher to preview Thursday’s game (yes, yes, my job is so hard). The Sixers will likely keep the schemes pretty bland. Miami, however, is doing all it can to claw back into a top-six spot. Although Lowry and Adebayo are questionable, both played Monday in a win over the Detroit Pistons.
I do wonder how the Sixers look to rectify their issues from the home loss against the Heat six weeks ago. They were sloppy with their passing and let Miami spring free for far too many long balls. The Heat are only 27th in three-point percentage (34.6), but were first a year ago (38.6 percent) and have been better as of late, ranking seventh (38.6 percent) since that Feb. 27 win over Philadelphia.
Even more recently, they’ve elected to change the starting lineup, with Max Strus replacing Kevin Love at the power forward spot. When Miami inked Love on the buyout market, the hope was he could provide some welcomed frontcourt spacing, but the veteran big man has struggled in 19 games, shooting just 28.6 percent beyond the arc. Lowry also didn’t play when these team squared off twice earlier in the season and has transitioned into a bench role behind Gabe Vincent since returning on March 11.
If Harden isn’t a late addition to the injury report, this game could at least get him further acclimated against a switch-heavy defense; for the Sixers’ offense to be as elite as it’s been the past four months, it needs him to create and capitalize on advantages versus switches. Miami mixes in a good deal of drop coverage with Adebayo, but will still switch him onto the perimeter, along with 1-4.
Brooklyn, Miami and Boston are all plausible playoff foes who switch a considerable amount and/or as the default scheme defensively. Continuing to figure the optimal ways and accruing more reps to counter that strategy is never unwelcomed. The same goes for Sunday’s game against the Nets, if Harden even suits up.
With only three games remaining and the Sixers’ playoff seed sealed, this next half week could be uneventful, but there are always non-results-based angles to assess. Thursday’s game represents that first chance.
When: 7:30 pm EST, Tuesday, April 4
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic