The matchup is set for the other Eastern Conference Semifinals series – the Miami Heat vs. the Philadelphia 76ers.
The 76ers looked like they were going to cruise to a first-round sweep of the Toronto Raptors after taking a 3-0 lead to start the series before the Raptors made a push to force a Game 6. Facing immense pressure to avoid a Game 7, the Sixers rolled in Game 6 with a huge third quarter to close out the Raptors.
Despite the scare, Philadelphia prevailed behind MVP candidate Joel Embiid and rising star guard Tyrese Maxey, with co-stars James Harden and Tobias Harris making contributions throughout the series.
Embiid looked shaky after the first few games of the series but still averaged 26.2 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. Maxey exploded for 38 points in Game 1 and then took over in the decisive third quarter of Game 6, scoring 15 of his 25 points.
Philadelphia’s biggest question mark is which version of Harden they will receive, as the All-Star guard’s production was lacking in the first round. Harden still made an impact as a passer, but against a feisty Heat defense that will make life as difficult as possible for Embiid, the 76ers will need their big trade deadline acquisition to flashback to the former prolific scoring version of himself.
Embiid when asked if Harden needs to take more shots: “I’ve been saying all season, since he got here, he just needs to be aggressive and needs to be himself. That’s not really my job. That’s probably on Coach to talk to him and tell him to take more shots.”
— Gina Mizell (@ginamizell) April 26, 2022
Miami’s defense is well-versed in shutting down superstars, making Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young look pedestrian in the first round. The Heat’s defense was swarming against the Hawks, holding them to the second-worst field goal percentage of all first-round teams while forcing the third-most turnovers per game.
All-Star forward Jimmy Butler was back to his playoff ways in the first round, averaging 30.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.8 steals per game. He erupted for 45 points in Game 2 and 36 points in Game 4 but sat out the team’s close-out Game 5 with knee inflammation, which will be worth monitoring ahead of Game 1 against Philadelphia.
🔥 45 POINTS for Jimmy Buckets 🔥
Game 3: Friday, 7 PM ET, ESPN pic.twitter.com/xAjzVassBk
— NBA (@NBA) April 20, 2022
With matchups between Embiid and Bam Adebayo and Harden and Butler, there is no shortage of star power in this series. Which team will prevail and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals?
Key storyline: Health of Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry
This series could be defined by the health and availability of each team’s key players.
It all starts with Embiid, who is clearly playing through pain after being diagnosed with a torn ligament in his right thumb. Embiid had his thumb evaluated in the first round and while surgery would be the best option, the All-Star center is electing to play through the pain and push the procedure to the offseason.
He struggled down the homestretch of the first-round series and going up against Adebayo and Miami’s suffocating defense, Embiid will have to power through his injury and work for every bucket if the 76ers will have a chance.
If, of course, Embiid is even able to play.
Ahead of Game 1 against Miami, it was revealed that Embiid suffered a right orbital fracture and mild concussion in Philadelphia’s Game 6 win over Toronto. He is out indefinitely.
Embiid has been playing through pain this postseason after sustaining a torn ligament in his right thumb — and now this orbital fracture, concussion, and will now be sidelined. 🙏🏽 https://t.co/3q9BPF9VAv
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) April 30, 2022
The Heat are dealing with two injuries of their own. Veteran floor general Kyle Lowry missed the last two games of their first-round series with a hamstring injury and All-Star forward Butler missed Game 5 with right knee inflammation.
While their status has not been updated for the start of the second round, head coach Erik Spoelstra relayed confidence that Butler would have been ready if the Heat needed a Game 6 to beat the Hawks and there also would have “been a chance” that Lowry would have been available as well.
We’re in for a battle of a series even if these stars are playing through pain.
Heat vs. 76ers series schedule
Heat vs. 76ers will open at FTX Arena in Miami for Games 1 and 2.
|May 2||Game 1||TBD|
|May 4||Game 2||TBD|
|May 6||Game 3||TBD|
|May 8||Game 4||TBD|
|May 10||Game 5*||TBD|
|May 12||Game 6*||TBD|
|May 15||Game 7*||TBD|
Heat vs. 76ers expert picks and predictions
Kyle Irving: Heat in seven games
Scott Rafferty: Heat in six games
Carlan Gay: Heat in six games
Gilbert McGregor: Heat in six games
Micah Adams: Heat in six games
Ananth Pandian: Heat in six games