Friday, July 1, 2022

76ers vs. Heat playoff preview: Jimmy Butler facing his old team, a meeting of top coaches among storylines

After taking care of business against their respective opponents in the first round, the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers will meet in the Eastern Conference semifinals for a chance to advance to the conference finals. The Heat took down the Atlanta Hawks in five games in the first round, while the Sixers dispatched the Toronto Raptors in six games. This will be the first postseason meeting between Miami and Philadelphia since 2018 when the Sixers bested the Heat in five games in the first round. 

Both teams are a little bit banged up heading into the series. Sixers All-Star center Joel Embiid is playing through a torn ligament in his right thumb that will require surgery after the season, while Jimmy Butler (knee inflammation) and Kyle Lowry (hamstring strain) both missed games during the first round. Hopefully, these injury issues don’t play too big of a factor in the series. 

For what it’s worth, the two teams split their four regular-season meetings, both winning once at home and once on the road. With that said, here’s the full schedule and three main storylines for the best-of-seven series between Miami and Philadelphia. 

(1) Miami Heat vs. (4) Philadelphia 76ers

All times Eastern

  • Game 1: 76ers at Heat | Monday, May 2, 7:30 p.m. ET | TV: TNT
  • Game 2: 76ers at Heat | Wednesday, May 4, 7:30  p.m. | TV: TNT
  • Game 3: Heat at 76ers | Friday, May 6, 7 p.m. | TV: ESPN
  • Game 4: Heat at 76ers | Sunday, May 8, TBD | TV: TBD
  • Game 5* 76ers at Heat | Tuesday, May 10, TBD | TV: TNT
  • Game 6* Heat at 76ers | Thursday, May 12, TBD | TV: ESPN
  • Game 7* 76ers at Heat | Sunday, May 15, TBD | TV: TBD

*If necessary

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Butler against his former franchise

Probably the most intriguing storyline heading into the series between Miami and Philadelphia is Jimmy Butler going up against his former franchise. As a quick refresher, the Sixers traded for Butler early on during the 2018-19 season, and he helped lead the team to the conference semifinals, where they fell in seven games to the Toronto Raptors. 

Butler then joined the Heat in free agency the following offseason, despite the fact that the Sixers likely intended to keep him long-term after trading for him. After he signed with the Heat, Butler implied that something went down behind the scenes with the Sixers that led to his decision to walk away from the organization  

“Stuff just don’t work out,” Butler said of his stint with the Sixers. “Nobody knows what really went on in Philly and we’re going to leave it that way. But it was a great opportunity for me … All of that will come out whenever it’s time. Right now is not the time. I’m locked in with this.” 

Butler didn’t name names, but his issues in Philadelphia weren’t with Joel Embiid, who he maintains a friendship with, and has previously referred to as “the best player in the league.” Plus, it’s been a couple of years since Butler’s exit from Philly, so the tension between the two sides has admittedly died down. But, the postseason has a way of reopening old wounds, so Butler’s history with the Sixers is definitely something to keep in mind as the series plays out. 

A meeting of two of the Top 15 coaches of all time

Earlier the season, the NBA released an official list of the top 15 coaches of all-time, and Doc Rivers and Erik Spoelstra were both on it. Those two will go head-to-head here in the second round. Both coaches currently rank in the top 10 for most postseason wins heading into the series. Rivers sits fourth with 102, and Spoelstra is eighth with 89.

This won’t be the first time that the two coaches have faced off in the postseason. In fact, it will be the fourth, as they also previously met in the first round in 2010, the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2011, and the Eastern Conference finals in 2012, all when Rivers was the coach of the Boston Celtics. Spoelstra’s Heat won in 2011 and 2012, while Boston bested Miami in 2010. 

The chess match between these two veteran coaches will be an extremely intriguing aspect of the series. Spoelstra has a reputation for being elite when it comes to X-and-O’s, while Rivers is known as more of a motivator. Both teams have very talented rosters, so ultimately it could come down to which coach is able to push the right buttons.  

Impact of injury issues 

While we hope that injury issues don’t have a major impact on this series, we have to acknowledge that they might. Embiid vowed to play through the pain of the ligament tear in his thumb, but it’s certainly bothering him.”I’d say it was more [bothersome] when it comes to rebounding, at the free throw line and passing,” Embiid said of the injury. “I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s whatever.” 

Embiid was dominant against Toronto in the first round even with the injured thumb, but it’s still something to keep an eye on over the course of the series.

For Miami, Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry were both in street clothes when the Heat closed out the Hawks in Game 5 in the first round. Maybe those two sitting was mainly precautionary given the lead that the Heat had in the series, but like Embiid’s thumb, it’s something to keep an eye on nonetheless. The Heat will need both guys at — or near — full strength to advance.

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