Culture vs. Process: Heat-Sixers Meet Again (Second-Round Preview)

Insight3 weeks ago7 min readJohn Jablonka

For just the third time in the team’s history, the Miami Heat are facing the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round. Unlike the series against the Atlanta Hawks, this should be a more difficult challenge.

Unfortunately, we won’t be getting either team at 100 percent. Joel Embiid has been listed as out for at least the first two games with a concussion and an orbital fracture and Kyle Lowry is out for at least the first game with a hamstring injury.

This does complicate things. There is a whole different game plan that is needed depending on Embiid’s availability. Which makes sense, of course, they will be playing without their best player who’s arguably the most valuable player this year. But going forward in this season preview, I’m assuming that Embiid will play at some point this series.

Before diving into the preview, let’s look at some key stats from the regular season and the series match-up. Stats per Cleaning the Glass.

  • Heat split the series 2-2
  • 76ers had a 114.0 offensive rating and a 110.7 defensive rating
  • 76ers had a 121.5 offensive rating and a 113.6 defensive rating post the Harden trade
  • Heat had a 108.5 offensive rating and a 107.9 defensive rating against the 76ers

Generally, regular season match-ups should be taken with a grain of salt. This is even more of a case here. Although the Heat split the series, none of the games had James Harden play and many included at least one key player missing.

Nevertheless, there could still be some takeaways that will be useful to answer these key questions for this series.

  • How will they defend Embiid?
  • How will they defend both Harden and Tyrese Maxey?
  • Who’s series will this be on offense?

Defending Embiid:

Similar to other stars, Embiid’s season stats and his stats against the Heat are quite different. In the three games against Miami, he averaged 23.7 points, 13.7 rebounds, and 3.3 assists on 55.8 percent true shooting. Compared that to his season averages and you’ll see a seven-point decrease almost a six percent decrease in efficiency.

Their defense works against Embiid.

You can see how it works too. Whenever Embiid caught the ball in the post, everyone else had a foot in the paint. Everyone on the team is ready to double or help out on any attacks.

When there are mismatches, as you can see in the last clip, there will be players digging, helping off corners, and sending timely doubles.

This is similar to how they schemed for Trae Young in a sense — sending extra help, loading up on him, and helping off corners. There is a good reason for defending him like this. Per InStat, he is scoring 1.28 points per possession (PPP) on 8.3 post-ups. You need all these bodies to stop him.

However, stopping the team’s best player comes at a cost. If you’re helping off of other guys, there is someone that will be open. We saw Bogdan Bogdanovic get hot because he was getting left open in the corner.

Now, Philadelphia has a better supporting cast and a better second and third player as an offensive threat.

This won’t be an issue in the first two games. However, per CTG, the 76ers had a 122.3 offensive rating with Embiid on the bench in the playoffs. That is elite.

Defending Harden and Maxey:

Even with Embiid out, the 76ers have these two guards who are capable of carrying the offensive load. Per CTG, with Harden and Maxey on the court without Embiid, the 76ers had a 116.8 offensive rating.

Maxey in the regular season has been great against the Heat averaging 21.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.5 assists on a ridiculous 68.0 percent true shooting. Embiid’s stats decline against the Heat. Maxey’s stats increase against the Heat.

The Heat could use a similar type of defense against him as they did with Young, but I don’t think that would be as effective.

Yes, Maxey was cooking the Heat, but he does it in a much different way.

He’s fast and great in transition. Per InStat, he is scoring 1.35 PPP on 4.3 transition possessions. He hasn’t been much of an isolation scorer or a pick-and-roll guy against the Heat.

One of the other ways he gets his points so efficiently is by attacking off a catch. Per InStat, he’s scoring 1.83 PPP on three catch and drives.

He does his damage primarily off the ball. More than half of his shots are assisted and that is completely different from how Young generates his points.

This leads to how they should defend Harden. The plan should be to turn him into a scorer and stop him from generating efficient offense for others. To do so, they must prevent him from getting inside the paint.

In the playoffs, he’s averaging 17.7 drives per game but is passing out on 49.1 percent. Almost half of his drives end with a pass because that is exactly what he wants. Out of the players with at least 15 drives per game, he is second in assist percentage and first in pass percentage.

Making Harden lean into more of an isolation scorer — though he’s still highly efficient one-on-one — will be better for the defense in general.

Generating Offense:

This is the most important question, as the Heat have struggled to generate offense against the 76ers this season.

One interesting stat is that the Heat only attempt 18 shots at the rim against the 76ers, which would have ranked last in the league in general. However, the top players were still able to drive consistently, except most drives resulted in kick-outs.

Poor shooting luck also contributes to the lack of offense the Heat had. They shot 31.0 percent on 24.0 catch and shoot 3s. Surprisingly, the shooters have struggled in all four games.

Duncan Robinson is shooting 26.6 percent on 7.3 3s and Max Strus is shooting 25.0% on 7.0 attempts. Now, this is the series they must shoot better. With a team in a drop like this and ones that struggle in transition defense, the shooters must make their shots.

Another player who struggled against the 76ers has been Jimmy Butler. In three games, he’s averaging 18.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 6.7 assists on 52.1 percent true shooting. His ability to get to the line helps a lot, but it’s everything else that he struggles with. Granted, these averages are dragged down by one extremely poor game.

His struggles can also be explained by being guarded by Embiid. Per NBA Stats, in 18.4 possessions, he shot 2-for-11 against Embiid.

What’s also interesting is 76ers’ defense with Embiid off the court. Per CTG, they have a 123.4 defensive rating without him in the playoffs.

Finally, this should be a Tyler Herro series. This should be where he can get quality looks because of the defense 76ers use with the drop. The 76ers allow the fifth-most mid-range attempts in the playoffs and the eighth-most in the regular season.

And did you know that Herro is one of the best mid-range shooters, especially in the playoffs? Currently, he’s shooting 63.2 percent on 3.8 attempts.

One thing to note is the Hawks did a great job at preventing Herro from getting into the paint, and this must change if they want a good series from him. He showed how effective he can be with his floater if he gets into the paint:

There need to be more actions getting Herro involved and getting him downhill into the paint because we know good things happen then.