Miami Heat vs Philadelphia 76ers Play-in Preview: Countering Embiid’s Help, Stopping Maxey, Better Guard Play & Potential Kyle’s Revenge!

Insightlast month13 min readJohn Jablonka

This is going to be peak basketball. Who would’ve thought that after sending Kyle Lowry away, he was going to have a chance to stand in the way of the Miami Heat making the playoffs. I can already see it that. There’s going to be a play late in the fourth that’s Lowry either hitting a tough 3pt, as he attempts his first shot in the game or a charge on Jimmy Butler in a tie game. That would be cinema right there.

Both teams obviously found themselves in the play-in, but they are still very different teams, especially when they were healthy.

The 76ers this year, per Cleaning the Glass:

  • +2.8 net rating(9th)
  • 116.9 ORTG(15th)
  • 114.1 DRTG(11th)

But that ignores context. Joel Embiid has missed more than half of the season and they were just terrible without him. Without him on, the 76ers were -0.6 with 114.8 offense and 115.4 defense. In games he didn’t play are even worse where they went 16-27 with -3.6 net.

When you look at this team that did have Embiid on, it’s a whole different team. They were +9.0 with 120.7 offense and 111.7 defense. Those numbers would rank second, third, and third — that is a dominant team led by Embiid, who most likely would’ve had a hell of a case to win his second straight MVP.

Obviously, this team is much better than what their record says and this won’t be an easy game, so let’s preview this 1 game series!

Season Series & Stats

Nothing annoys me more about doing previews for any kind of series when the regular season matchup was so entirely different that it’s hard to draw any conclusion:

  • Embiid played one game
  • Butler played one game
  • Lowry played one game for the Heat
  • Tyler Herro played two games
  • Terry Rozier played two games
  • Tobias Harris played one game
  • Neither team’s regular starting five played

How are you meant to take anything away from that when the best players aren’t even playing? I guess you just have to look at what did happen and attempt to see how that could look now and anything that can show something.

Let’s start with the basic stats:

Series stats(shot frequency in parenthesis):

Game by game:

Summary points:

  • Offense in the mud
  • Poor shooting from both teams — 33% for the Heat and 34% for the 76ers from deep
  • A big turnover issue for the Heat on both ends. Couldn’t take care of the ball and they struggled forcing turnovers
  • Heat surprisingly was dominant on the glass
  • The defense started with rim deterrence and rim protection
  • The 76ers hit a lot of mid-range shots
  • 76ers were chucking up 3s — almost a 3rd from above the break
  • Heat got to the rim in all three games but struggled once Embiid came back

Again, there’s only so much that you can take away from these stats. The offense was obviously going to suck without Butler. The 76ers rim defense was going to be bad without Embiid. A lot of this may not be any kind of predictor of what’s going to happen in this one game. This being just a play-in also changes a lot of things.

Nevertheless, let’s now use what we can to see what’s in store and what to watch out for!

Defensive Breakdown

There are a few things to watch out on defense:

  • Defending Maxey — stopping his drives but getting torched in the mid-range and his passing
  • Limiting Embiid as best you can
  • Continuing with the rim defense
  • Forcing a lot more turnovers
  • Stopping the role players

Let’s start with Maxey.

Here are Maxey’s game by game stats:

  • 25/12/23: 12 points on 3/12 2pt, 1/8 3pt, 3/6 ft with 5 assists
  • 14/2/24: 30 points on 10/16 2pt, 2/7 3pt, 4/4 ft with 7 assists and 3 turnovers
  • 18/3/24: 30 points on 8/14 2pt, 3/10 3pt, 5/5 ft with 10 assists and 3 turnovers
  • 4/4/24: 37 points on 10/12 2pt, 5/14 3pt, 2/2 ft with 11 assists and 1 turnover

After that one game, everything has gone out the window when it comes to defending Maxey. He was cooking and getting whatever he wanted.

I broke down how they went about defending Maxey and a lot of it is how they approached all the other smaller, faster guards. It was with Adebayo in a drop, helping off strong side corners, and pinching in to take away any drives. Whenever he looked to attack early, there were already 2-3 bodies inside the paint. There was simply no breathing room on any of his drives.

But then in the next three games it didn’t matter and a lot of that was to do with his tough shot-making. This was his shot distribution:

  • 8/11 restricted area
  • 6/12 paint
  • 14/19 mid-range
  • 1/3 corner 3pt
  • 9/28 above the break

They still forced him into jump shots, he just had himself going and knocked down tough shots.

The defense is almost exactly the same. He has no room to attack but is taking and making a lot of tough 3s.

What is going to be interesting is how his 3-point shoot will look like. He has struggled shooting from deep — only making 32% of his ATB 3s, and that makes a big difference. Even if the tough shot-making from the mid-range regresses, so can his 3pt and that’s not good for the Heat.

Then when it comes to his assists:

Most of the assists come from again making sure he doesn’t get a paint touch. You can see how much attention he’s drawing from all off-ball players and that just opens up simple kicks and swings to put the defense in rotation.

When it comes to the matchups in each game:

It’s been a bit of everyone guarding him. We can safely ignore the first game, though.

Heading into this game, I think they again will start things off with Martin taking the first responsibility(though it is interesting to see Butler being the 2nd highest guy). Not sure what to expect from Rozier(if he’s playing) because I wasn’t that impressed with his screen navigation and contesting those tough shots.

But one thing that stands out is Robinson being in the top five three times. He was getting hunted. There was a point where he should’ve got benched quicker because the whole offensive plan was just involve Robinson:

And another example:

This happened twice, so I’m expecting that to happen again whenever Robinson is on the court

Defending Embiid is going to be tough. We’ve only seen Embiid for one game and it was rough with him getting 29 points but on subpar shooting — 8/17 2pt, 3/6 3pt, 4/5 ft. Though, that was his second game back after being out for so long.

But defending Embiid won’t be easy and that’s on top of all of the responsibility defending Maxey. In this one game, Embiid was cooking from the mid-range. That’s what he’s been doing all season long — 47% within 3-10ft, 47% within 10-16ft, 51% within 16-3pt. He’s deadly from anywhere inside the arc:

There’s not going to be stopping him, but the Heat have been one of the best teams at limiting him and throwing him his usual spots. His free throw attempts were tied for fifth for the lowest this season for him.

This is a matchup that Adebayo needs to take personally and completely lock-in. That will mean fronting him, battling in the post, pushing him out of deep positions, and making life as difficult as he can.

Then there are all the other little things.

Harris had himself a great one game scoring 27 points going 6/11 2pt, 4/7 3pt, 3/3 ft with 6 assists. He was cooking whenever he had a smaller guy on him. There wasn’t a lot that they did to throw him off his spots whenever had someone like Jaquez Jr or Herro:

Same thing with Kelly Oubre Jr. He was feasting inside. He was getting to the rim whether it was off timely cuts or exploiting smaller, weaker guys off the dribble. You can’t hide weaker defenders that easily on Oubre:

Offensive Breakdown

This is the area that has nothing to go by. It’s tough to look at their offense when in three of those games, Butler wasn’t playing.

But here are the things to watch out for:

  • Butler needing to be aggressive early
  • SPACING! — taking Embiid out of the paint
  • What to do with Adebayo?
  • Shooters getting open
  • Herro and Rozier’s better overall game
  • Punishing Maxey and Lowry
  • Jovic being the x-factor

The offense with this team starts with Butler and he will have to be better. We only have one game with him and he finished with 20 points on 6/13 2pt, 1/4 3pt, 5/5 ft with 5 assists.

But he’s going to have to be a lot more aggressive. The 76ers chose to have Lowry defend him for 30 possessions and he only had 5 points on 5 shots. That needs to go up. Whether it’s being aggressive in the post or just actively looking for a shot around the paint and the mid-range is going to be needed.

With the way the defense will defend him and the team, he’s going to have to be aggressive. That brings me to the point about spacing. That’s going to be a struggle, especially with Embiid back. This also related to the next point as well regarding what to do with Adebayo.

First, you have Adebayo positioning on the court even when Embiid wasn’t playing. They’ve been playing around with him as a spacer, but the 76ers weren’t really guarding him there:

That’s issue number one. The biggest one is with Embiid and it’s not just an Adebayo thing:

Look at all of this spacing. Embiid if playing off of almost anyone. His job was to stay in the paint and take that away and it worked. The Heat only took 17 shots at the rim in that game.

If Embiid is able to guard Jaquez, Martin, or Adebayo and at the same time protect the rim, that is going to cause so many issues or make guys unplayable. Because even if Butler is looking to be aggressive, he’s not going to have any space to do anything.

One thing that stood out in the last two games is how they defended Robinson. In the first two games, he was mostly defended by Oubre and Hield. Then they changed the assignment to practically Nicolas Batum only — he defended him for 26 and 22 possessions. That completely changed the game for Robinson. He couldn’t get shots off!

But that does at least take one of their better defenders away from everything else. That could force the 76ers into a decision.

Both Rozier and Herro need to be better. Not only did they struggle with their scoring and efficiency, but they were high-volume shooters too:

  • Herro 1st game: 22 points on 4/14 2pt, 4/11 3pt, 2/3 ft with 5 assists and 4 turnovers
  • Herro 2nd game: 23 points on 7/15 2pt, 1/8 3pt, 2/3 ft with 7 assists and 3 turnovers
  • Rozier 1st game: 20 points on 5/14 2pt, 3/7 3pt, 1/1 ft with 1 assist and 2 turnovers
  • Rozier 2nd game: 22 points on 1/7, 6/13 3pt, 2/2 ft with 1 assist and 3 turnovers

Those are two very poor games from both of them. The shot attempts NEED to go down. Herro going 11/29 2pt and Rozier going 6/21 just can’t happen. I wonder if De’Anthony Melton will play because that’s who defended Herro the most in the first game where the struggle was most glaring. With Rozier, it was Maxey, Oubre, and Batum.

But again, if those get those assignments, someone is going to have a weaker defender.

That brings me to the point about punishing mismatches. The 76ers do have Maxey, Lowry, and Hield to pick on. Whoever has a weaker, smaller, slower defender, they have to exploit it in whatever way. Whether it’s to constantly be moving and relocating, or punishing them in isolation and post-ups.

With the recent play of Jaquez and how he looked in his first game, that could be him. Here’s a breakdown of his 31 points against the 76ers earlier in the year:

Finally, I do think Jovic might be the x-factor here. He’s only played in two games and it’s only been one game since he’s been more confident in his game.

But with him being the starter, he could be the guy that helps with the spacing or is able to punish mismatches.

Overall, it’s just one game. Everything and anything can happen in a one-game sample. Though, the keys to the game will be:

  • How will Butler look on offense?
  • Can Adebayo make life difficult for Embiid?
  • Can the Heat continue with their rim deterrence defense, particularly against Maxey?
  • Will Maxey continue to torch them with tough shots?
  • How will the Heat counter Embiid helping at the rim?
  • Can the guards step up?
  • What will you get from the role players?

To end the preview, I’m predicting a game in the mud, with the Heat winning 108-104.