As the NBA playoffs kick off on Saturday, the Philadelphia 76ers will meet the Miami Heat in Round One of the Eastern Conference, with Game 1 of the series set to be played in Philly.
The Sixers (52-30, 30-11 home) ended the regular season as the third seed in the East, mainly due to an amazing run at the end of the campaign. Philly finished the season as the most in form team in the NBA, winning 16 straight games, despite missing arguably their best player, Embiid, for their last 8 matches. They are finally back in the playoffs after a long wait and there will be a lot of excitement around the team ahead of this clash, but Miami will be a very tough first round opponent – especially as it`s unclear when Embiid will be back.
The Heat (44-38, 18-23 away) have played pretty good basketball themselves at the end of the regular season, and they were always going to be a tough nut to crack for anybody in the first round of the playoffs. With good coaching and plenty of experience in their ranks, the Heat will smell blood coming to play against the young Sixers.Bet on Sixers v Heat and get your 100% (100 Eur) welcome bonus at Ohmbet now!
Team news: Embiid is still out for the Sixers. The Heat have Waiters out for the season and there are small question marks over the fitness of Goran Dragic, but he is widely expected to play.
While the Sixers did very well to win 16 games in a row, and they are clearly playing great basketball, there are some auxiliary factors which put things in perspective. First of all the schedule during this run was incredibly easy, the Sixers meeting just three (!!) playoff teams during the 16 game winning run. Secondly, they did have Joel Embiid available for 8 of those games, which won`t be the case today.
With the above paragraph in mind, it`s pretty clear that the Sixers are a bit overrated here, because their 16 game winning streak, while definitely impressive, is not that fantastic when you break it down.
This is a young and inexperienced Philly team which will play a postseason match for the first time in many years, and they will have to take on a well coached, experienced and solid opponent. The Heat have key players like Wade, Dragic and Whiteside who have all played high level playoff matches before. The Sixers have just Redick, who`s not a ball handler or a go to guy. They will be led by a rookie in Ben Simmons. It`s reasonable to consider the possibility that the pressure and the expectations could be too much for Philly to handle in this Game 1.
The crucial factor of course is the absence of Embiid, which is a huge problem in itself, as the Sixers aren`t the same team without him – even if Simmons is a superstar himself and did a great job to lead the team during the last 8 games of the season. But Embiid`s absence could become even more disastrous considering that Miami has Whiteside at center, and now there`s nobody on the Sixers to contain him.
Not lastly, these two teams have played only close games during this season. They met 4 times (each team won twice) and the games were decided by 9, 6, 2 and 1 points. The Sixers haven`t beaten Miami by more than 6 points this season.
All things considered, this should be a tight game, and Philly would do very well to win without Embiid. But Miami`s playoff experience and better health might allow them to steal Game 1 on the road. As such, my tip is the Heat to cover the +6.5 point handicap. Prediction: Philadelphia 76ers – Miami Heat 108 – 109.