#6 Miami Heat at #3 Philadelphia 76ers
Game 1: Saturday, April 14, 2018 – at 7 PM CT
Spread: PHI -6.5
Total: Total: 213.5
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The young Philadelphia 76ers enter the postseason as the league’s hottest team, but will that momentum be enough to carry the Sixers in its postseason debut of the Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid era?
“Why not us, why not now?” was a mantra of the young 1995 Orlando Magic team that boasted a roster of Shaquille O’Neal and Penny Hardaway. Surely Philly fans must be saying similar to the Sixers made a historic turnaround while notching a No. 3 seed in the East and managing to post a 52-30 record on the heels of having been one of the league’s worst teams a year ago.
Credit much of that to Joel Embiid managing to stay healthy most of the season, but equally impressive has been the ascent of likely Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons. The Sixers closed the season on a 16-game win streak, and it now will square off against Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat in the first round.
Philly enters Game 1 as 6.5-point favorites at home where the Sixers were dominant this season. Philadelphia tallied a 30-11 mark at home this season, and that was the second-best home record in the Eastern Conference this season. The Miami Heat finished the season 44-38 while managing to win three more games than a season ago despite a point differential of just +0.5.
The Sixers were good for +4.5 point differential, and with Joel Embiid due to return soon, Philly should really hit stride. They managed to win while he sat down the stretch, recovering from a broken orbital bone in his face. Embiid will undoubtedly wear a mask this postseason, so look forward to the Phantom of the Opera look and a Sixers team possibly poised on really making history by providing the punctuation on its season in the playoffs. Let us take a look at some of the key matchups in this series in our attempt to discern the series victors.
Backcourt: Goran Dragic/Tyler Johnson vs. Ben Simmons/J.J. Redick
Goran Dragic is the Miami Heat’s best player. Tyler Johnson is capable of having his big nights as a sharpshooter who has outstanding athleticism. But how do either of them contend with 6’8” point guard Ben Simmons? Simmons has revolutionized the Sixers attack, and he had 10 triple-doubles in his rookie season. Simmons has the court vision and skills, and the size, to really give Dragic a world of issues, and Waiters will not likely fare much better against the former No. 1 overall pick.
Putting sharpshooter J.J. Redick next to him is a death punch, as Redick is coming off another excellent regular season, and the only real thing that remains to be decided is whether to re-sign him after paying the Duke product $20 million on a one-year deal. Philly has a commanding edge in the backcourt, and that involves Miami’s best player. That does not bode well for Erik Spoelstra’s Heat. Also, keep in mind that 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz will back up Simmons and he already posted one triple-double of his own despite spending the majority of the season on the injured list.
Frontcourt: Josh Richardson/Kelly Olynyk/Hassan Whiteside vs. Robert Covington/Dario Saric/Amir Johnson (Joel Embiid?)
It is still unclear as to when exactly Joel Embiid will be back, but in the meantime, Amir Johnson is a serviceable center and certainly good enough to keep Heat 5-man Hassan Whiteside in check. Robert Covington is a super “three and D” swingman and probably one of the most underrated players in the league, while Dario Saric has been on fire in his own right. The Heat have got some big games from Kelly Olynyk, and Whiteside is the best rim protector in the league.
Small forward Josh Richardson is a nice shooter and scorer but probably canceled out by Covington’s strong defensive skills. Keep an eye on backup center Bam Adebayo, who has impressed Miami in his rookie season out of Kentucky and could see some crucial minutes in this series, particularly if Embiid does return this round to put Whiteside in foul trouble. Regardless of that tangent, these frontcourts stack up fairly equally, with Embiid subtracted from the picture. If Joel manages to suit up,
Philly gets a commanding edge, however. He is an All-Star after all, but let us not pretend Philadelphia did not go on a 15-game win streak without his services. The Sixers are legitimate contenders and a dark horse favorite to surprise the league as Eastern Conference champs.
Advantage: Even (without Embiid)
The Heat have some nice cogs on its bench. Duke product Justise Winslow is a defensive stopper at the 3-spot, and James Johnson is one of the most versatile power forwards in the league that few are familiar with. Even in the backcourt, the Heat have Dwyane Wade and Tyler Johnson, if Waiters does not start, which is doubtful given that he suited up just 30 games this season.
Even so, Philly brings a No. 1 pick off the bench in Fultz, who could be a major factor this postseason. Fultz has impressed in limited duty while having ironed out his once-horrid free throw form. Philly’s bench includes stretch-4 Ersan Ilyasova, the tenacious TJ McConnell, and flamethrower Marco Belinelli. Fultz, however, gives Philly an advantage with his scoring and explosiveness, and Miami will have a tough time countering it.
Edge: Philly, by a hair
The Bottom Line:
Without Embiid playing a game in this series, it could be close, but it probably still will not be. The Heat are outclassed offensively by the Sixers and doubtfully have anything close to an answer for what Simmons is capable of doing to guards four and five inches shorter than him.
Prediction: Sixers Sweep Heat, 4-0
Maddux Handicappers are killing the NBA game again, subscribe to our affordable season pick packages TODAY!