This playoff series is bound to be a tale of two underdogs. On one side, you have a third seed Philadelphia team whose best players are a rookie and a currently injured sophomore, expected to barely clinch the eighth seed before the season began. On the other, you have a sixth seed whose success is based on relatively starless team play and veteran experience. Granted, the Heat have a three-time NBA champion on their roster, but he is 36-years-old and riding the bench.
The last thing the 76ers want to do is dismiss veteran Dwyane Wade. It’s best to keep a watchful eye on Wade, as Philadelphia should not forget his game-winner against them in February. It’s also worth mentioning that Philly’s star center, Joel Embiid, has some of his worst games against Hassan Whiteside. With Embiid’s absence confirmed for Game 1, their bench bigs will have to make a concerted effort to contain Whiteside on the boards. Who knows how well Embiid will play against Whiteside in later games, especially coming off an orbital fracture and concussion.
The Heat also have a significant strength against the 76ers in terms of playoff experience, as Coach Spoelstra has lead Miami through the Big Three era’s championships. It would be unwise to discount Coach Brown’s experience in the postseason, however, as his primary coaching experience before joining Philadelphia was in San Antonio as the assistant to playoff regular Gregg Popovich. The 76ers are also not as young as they seem; their roster’s average age is only 26, but recent additions Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli add a veteran presence to that of J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson.
Still, Philadelphia’s best player in the past month has been the rookie Ben Simmons. If the Heat can shut him down in the paint, his main option will be dishing out to the three-point line which could be a problem for the Heat. Miami will have to stifle Philadelphia’s shooters to make a noticeable defensive impact.
The 76ers are coming off of a 16 game win streak that is mostly credited to Ben Simmons. Though they played mostly sub .500 teams in that period, the evidence shows that Simmons will be a threat to Miami, even without Embiid. If Whiteside can shut down the paint and Miami’s wing defense can extinguish any hot three-point shooting during Game 1, Miami will have a good chance of upsetting Philadelphia in their first playoff showdown since 2012.