The matchups in the Eastern Conference semifinals are set, and one of them features the top-seeded Miami Heat versus the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Heat had a relatively easy time in the first round of the National Basketball Association playoffs, disposing of Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks in five games.
Meanwhile, the Sixers thought that things would also be easy for them, as they took a 3-0 lead over the Toronto Raptors, but they lost the next two contests before wrapping things up with a Game 6 blowout.
The next series between the Heat and Sixers will certainly be interesting and offer plenty of star power, but there are a few reasons why Philly should be very concerned and the Heat should be favored.
3. Joel Embiid’s Injury
Embiid had another banner season, averaging 30.6 points per game, which led the NBA, 11.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists, and many think he will be named the league MVP.
Although he started off the Toronto series well and hit the game-winning 3-pointer in Game 3, he suffered a torn ligament in his thumb.
Embiid managed to score 33 points in Game 6 on red-hot shooting, but he only had 41 points combined in the prior two contests, which were both losses for Philly.
Since the injured thumb is on his shooting hand, it wouldn’t be surprising if he doesn’t quite look like himself versus Miami.
Out of everything I heard last night, this is the one thing that really worries me from Joel Embiid.
— RB (@RBPhillyTake) April 26, 2022
What makes things even more concerning for Philly is the fact that the Heat are one of the best defensive teams in pro basketball, are well-coached by Erik Spoelstra, and possess big man Bam Adebayo, one of the best defenders around.
In three games against Miami in the regular season, Embiid averaged just 23.7 points a game on 42.0 percent shooting, and in those contests, he only made 1-of-14 3-point shot attempts.
2. James Harden’s Struggles
Just a few years after one of the best three-year stretches in NBA history, Harden has been playing very poorly.
The former MVP averaged 22 points but shot just 41.0 percent from the field and 33.0 percent from downtown.
Although he had a couple of good games versus Toronto, overall he continued to struggle in the first round.
Of note was Game 2 in which Harden shot just 3-of-9, and Game 5 which saw him go 5-of-17 from the floor.
The Sixers may not need Harden to have as many points as he put up with regularity when he was a member of the Houston Rockets, especially since young gun Tyrese Maxey has been playing so well, but they do need Harden to be efficient.
1. Jimmy Buckets
Jimmy Butler is not only Miami’s best player, but he is also their designated crunch-time shooter, and one of the league’s best crunch-time performers.
If someone had one shot to win the world championship and had to pick one player to take that one shot, Butler would be a great a player to choose as anyone in the NBA.
In Game 2 against Atlanta, he exploded for 45 points on 15-of-25 shooting, and he asserted himself in particular down the stretch to ensure a 115-105 win for his team.
Jimmy Butler knows how to win games. He scores a new playoff high 45 points to lead the Heat a 2-0 lead over the Hawks. Butler was unstoppable on both ends of the floor. “Elite two-way basketball player” coach Spoelstra said #NBA75 pic.twitter.com/oKRnzY9tGb
— Davide Chinellato (@dchinellato) April 20, 2022
If any of Miami’s games versus Philly are close, Butler will be sure to put them away.