Throughout the playoffs, we’ll be doing series previews for each and every matchup. For more in-depth analysis, check out our Eastern and Western Conference Preview Articles, which covered the conferences at-large. Find all of our NBA playoff content here and on Twitter (@GamblingPodcast and @NBAZachB).
Series Prices and Game 1 Line
Miami Heat +400 vs. Philadelphia 76ers -550.
G1: MIA @ PHI (-7), O/U 212, +245/-305.
Regular Season H2H (Split)
2/2/2018: Miami 97, Philadelphia (-4) 103. Under 203.
2/14/2018: Miami 102, Philadelphia (-4) 104. Over 202.
2/27/2018: Philadelphia 101, Miami (-1) 102. Under 205.
3/8/2018: Philadelphia 99, Miami (-1) 108. Under 209.5
Facts and Figures
Philadelphia 76ers (#3)
- 52-30 Overall. 48-32-2 ATS. 40-41-1 O/U.
- Leading Scorer: Joel Embiid, 22.9 PPG.
- Best Stats: 55.6 REB/Gm (#1), +4.5 Scoring Margin/Gm (#4), 43.4% Opp. FG (#1).
- Worst Stats: 75.2 % FT (#23), 25.6 Opp. FTA/Gm (#29), 16.5 TOV/Gm (#30).
- Notable Injuries: Joel Embiid, Face – Should play at some point in this series.
Miami Heat (#6)
- 44-38 Overall. 40-36-6 ATS. 36-44-2 O/U.
- Leading Scorer: Goran Dragic, 17.3 PPG.
- Best Stats: 64.4 Opp. FGA Contested/Gm (#4), 102.9 Opp. Pts/Gm (#4).
- Worst Stats: 23.9 3Q Pts/Gm (#29), 19.5 FTA/Gm (#25), 9.3 Fastbreak Pts/Gm, (#27).
- Notable Injuries: Goran Dragic, Knee – Expected to play with mild discomfort.
Key Overall Matchup
Will Philly be able to run and gun their way to open shots?
Above anything I could tell you about how these two teams match up on the floor, this series will come down to the youth of Philadelphia and their ability to handle this moment and the pressure that comes with being a favorite in a playoff series. Philadelphia is the better team across the board, exceeding Miami statistically on both ends of the floor and playing their best basketball of the year at the perfect time.
They surely, however, are hearing the noise; they do have the easiest path to the Finals of anyone in the postseason and they are in a perfect position to take down Lebron. Standing in their way now, however, is an unassuming yet determined Miami team that makes you work for every thing you get.
This series is an ultimate clash of styles as the Sixers prefer to play in space, while Miami would prefer the game flow to be mucked up and physical. Especially with Embiid off the floor, the Sixers put shooting around the perimeter to create space, allow Ben Simmons to drive and draw help defenders to create even more space, and then start whipping the ball around the perimeter to find shooters, with open space around them, for open looks. As such, they are second in the league in assists per game with 27.1, and second in the league in assists per made field goal at 66%. They take 22 shots per game from 25+ feet (second highest in the league behind only Houston). Playing in space around Simmons has turned Philadelphia’s offense into somewhat of a juggernaut; they are a lot closer to the Rockets and Warriors in both style and execution than people think.
Miami, on the other side, relies on tremendous effort defensively to combat spacing, closing out shooters like crazy and filling space on the floor with length. From above, they contest 64 shots per game, fourth in the league — they are determined not to give up open shots and to make everything difficult. Opponents are making just under 10 threes per game against them, yet they will undeniably have their hands full in this series against the likes of J.J. Redick, Marco Belinelli, and Robert Covington.
Philadelphia, likewise, feeds off of the energy and positive feedback loop created by taking and making open shots. They love to get out in transition and run up the score and play their best ball when they can just “wheel and deal” in the open floor. If things get tight, however, and Miami is able to muck this game up and slow things down by limiting open looks and mitigating Philly scoring runs, then the pressure of the moment will mount and the Sixers’ lack of experience could come back to bite them.
Key Individual Matchup
Who guards Ben Simmons? How does Miami plan to guard him?
Ben Simmons is one of the most dynamic players in the league, whether or not you consider him a rookie. He is the sole driver of the Sixers’ offensive attack, using dribble penetration to either finish at the rim on his own or use his tremendous vision to find open shooters. He is a passing savant; just two players have ever averaged 15, 8, and 8 in their rookie year: Simmons and Oscar Robertson. Pretty darn good company.
Simmons, of course, cannot shoot for his life. Yet, I actually think his inability to shoot and the extent to which that has been focused on by the media has helped open up the game for him in other ways. Teams “let him shoot” by sagging off of him, with defenders always keeping one foot in the lane when matched onto Simmons. Simmons is good enough, however, to still beat people off the dribble and, when sagged off of, he has an extra few steps between half court and the free-throw line to gain a full head of steam towards the rim. He also faces zero ball pressure so both his handle remains unthreatened and his passing vision uncontested.
Miami will have a wealth of options as to how they want to defend Simmons — the size of James Johnson, the quickness of Josh Richardson, the experience of Dwyane Wade — each is viable, but they must not overthink Simmons’ game based on his seeming limitations. Instead, Miami needs to prioritize taking away what he does best. It’s crazy to say, but Simmons is more good at driving/passing than he is bad at shooting.
Philadelphia is 24-12 ATS as a home favorite. They are also 29-7 SU as a home favorite.
Miami is 19-10-2 ATS as a road dog.
The over is 15-4 with Philadelphia as a road favorite.
Miami wins if…
They control the pace and keep the games in the 90s; they limit three-point shooting; they hang in games early in 1Q and 3Q and put the pressure on Philly to stay locked in for 48 minutes.
Philadelphia wins if…
Ben Simmons is comfortable; their three-point shooters make open looks and then add in some contested ones too; they win game 1 and 2 at home and settle into the series.
Sixers in 6.