The Philadelphia 76ers continue their quest for an NBA Championship with a semifinal matchup against Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat. As two of the East’s top teams, and history among some of the players, it is sure to be a hard-fought series from both sides.
At this point in the year, it’s almost impossible for teams to be fully healthy. Injuries could play a pivotal role in this series as both teams have key players currently sidelined. Most notably, Sixers All-Star Joel Embiid, who is dealing with a fractured orbital bone and a mild concussion.
While things initially looked bleak for Embiid and the Sixers, there continues to be more hope around the MVP finalist making a return at some point. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Embiid could potentially return to action when the series returns to Philly for games 3 and 4.
Possibly getting Embiid back midway through the series is huge for the Sixers. As of now, the supporting cast has to keep things afloat for two games until they are potentially re-joined by their All-Star teammate.
Heat Also Dealing With The Injury Bug
Looking at the other side, the Heat are also battling their fair share of injuries. Starting point guard Kyle Lowry has already been ruled out for Game 1. Miami also has a long list of players who will be game-time decisions, including Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro.
Lowry has only appeared in three playoff games this year, and his play does not reflect what we are accustomed to seeing from him. The Philly native is only averaging 8.3 PPG and 5.3 APG on 34.8% shooting from the floor. Even if he does take the floor in their series, it’s clear he is not 100% physically.
This is a tough blow for the Heat as Lowry brings championship experience to the lineup. He is also a hard-nosed defender and would have likely been tasked with guarding Sixers breakout star Tyrese Maxey. Being without him could create matchup issues as they attempt to contain the second-year guard.
Battle Of The Supporting Casts
Ultimately, this series could come down to a battle of the supporting casts. Each side will still have some star power on the floor, but which side’s role players can step up might be the deciding factor on which side advances to the Conference Finals.
Replacing the production of Embiid is no small task and will take a collective effort. As the Sixers’ lone All-Star now, James Harden must elevate his game to keep the group afloat. Tyrese Maxey and Tobias Harris are another pair of X-factors in light of Embiid’s absence. Not only does Harris have to shoulder more of the scoring load, but will likely be Jimmy Butler’s primary defender if he’s active.
All title-winning teams face some form of adversity, and the Sixers find themselves in the midst of their biggest challenge yet. Now is a time when they will heavily rely on their veterans to keep the locker room calm while also playing their part in filling the void. How they respond to this pressure will be a clear tell of how seriously they should be seen as finals contenders.