Miami did catch a break, as All-Star center Joel Embiid is out indefinitely for the Sixers after he sustained a right orbital fracture and mild concussion during the team’s Game 6 win over the Toronto Raptors in the first round of the playoffs.
It’s unclear how much time Embiid will miss in this series, but the Heat have to take advantage if he is out of the lineup for any amount of time.
Miami is dealing with injury problems of its own, as Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry failed to play in the team’s Game 5 win over the Hawks, so there may need to be some unsung heroes in this series.
The Heat can expect a heavy dose of James Harden and Tyrese Maxey with Embiid injured, but how can they slow the Sixers down and come away with a series win?
Here are five keys for the Heat to win the series and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals this postseason.
1. Limit trips to the charity stripe
Whenever Embiid does return to the lineup, he and Harden are an elite duo at getting easy baskets at the charity stripe this season.
Embiid averaged 11.8 free-throw attempts per game in the 2021-22 regular season, and Harden wasn’t far behind. The veteran guard averaged 8.2 free-throw attempts during the regular season.
Miami is a great defensive team, as it ranked No. 4 in the league during the regular season in defensive rating, but it can’t afford to allow Embiid and Harden to pick up easy points at the line in this series.
Miami did a great job of limiting Trae Young and his free-throw attempts in the first round (he took just 33 in five games), and it needs to duplicate that performance against Philly.
At the same time, Miami needs to keep its own guys out of foul trouble, especially if Lowry or Butler is still banged up.
Embiid and Harden are great scorers, but they will have a much harder time putting up huge scoring numbers if they aren’t getting to the line as much as they did in the regular season.
2. Slow down Maxey
Maxey may be the key for the Sixers in this series, as he’s carried the team at times with his scoring, especially when he dropped 38 points in the team’s Game 1 win over the Raptors.
This regular season, the Sixers went 17-8 when Maxey scored 20 or more points in a game, and they are going to rely on him even more with Embiid banged up.
The Heat did a great job of limiting a smaller guard in Young in the first round, and they can deploy some of the same tactics with Maxey.
The second-year guard is great at getting downhill with his elite speed, but the Heat have several defenders (Gabe Vincent, P.J. Tucker, Victor Oladipo, Butler, Lowry) that they can throw at Maxey to make sure he sees different looks.
The Heat will be in a good spot if they force someone other than Maxey, Harden or Embiid to beat them.
3. Control the glass
The rebound battle will be crucial for Miami in this series, and it should be able to control the glass with Embiid out.
During the regular season, the Heat were ninth in the NBA in rebounding percentage (51.0 percent) while the Sixers were just 20th (49.0 percent).
The Heat may be at a bit of a size disadvantage with Tucker playing the power forward spot, but they can take advantage of Embiid’s potential absence with Paul Reed or DeAndre Jordan playing center for the Sixers.
If Miami can limit second chances for the Sixers, it will not only allow it to get out in transition, but it will also help limit easy buckets down low.
4. Get Bam involved
The Heat have to get Adebayo involved on the offensive end after a rather quiet first round.
Adebayo averaged just 12.4 points per game in the team’s series against the Hawks, and he took just 8.4 shots per game.
That’s a huge drop-off from Adebayo’s regular season numbers when he averaged 19.1 points on 13.0 shots per game.
The Sixers are a much better team than the Hawks, and the Heat are going to need more production out of everyone not named Jimmy Butler in this series.
It starts with Adebayo, as he is an All-Star caliber big man that could give Embiid some problems down low. It’s also important to get Adebayo involved since Embiid is banged up and may not be the same player defensively.
If Adebayo can get some easy buckets or get Embiid in foul trouble, that’s a huge win for the Heat.
5. Take care of the ball
One of the biggest keys for Miami in this entire postseason is to limit turnovers, and the Heat did a good job of that against the Hawks.
During the regular season, the Heat were 28th in the NBA in turnovers per game, averaging 14.6 per night.
However, they have cut that number to just 13.2 per game in the playoffs. If the Heat continue to build on that against the Sixers, they are going to be a tough team to beat with how efficient their offense has been.
There is a common theme in these keys, as the Heat have to avoid giving this Philly team chances for easy baskets. If the Heat can do that, they are going to have a chance to make the Eastern Conference Finals this season.