The next playoff challenge for the Miami Heat will be Joel Embiid, James Harden and the Philadelphia 76ers.
With the 76ers closing out their first-round series with a 132-97 road victory Thursday night over the Toronto Raptors, to take that best-of-seven matchup 4-2, they now move on to a best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal against the Heat that opens Monday at FTX Arena.
The Heat went 2-2 against the 76ers this season, but have yet to face Philadelphia with Harden in its lineup.
The winner of Heat-76ers will advance to the Eastern Conference finals against the winner of the Boston Celtics-Milwaukee Bucks series that opens Sunday in Boston. The Heat would have homecourt advantage in such a series, as well, as the conference’s No. 1 seed. The 76ers are the No. 4 seed.
The Heat advanced by eliminating the Atlanta Hawks 4-1, closing out that series Tuesday night at FTX Arena.
This will be the third playoff meeting between the Heat at the 76ers. The Heat defeated the 76ers 4-1 in the 2011 first-round, the first playoff series for the Heat Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The 76ers then defeated the Heat 4-1 in the 2018 first-round, in Wade’s final playoff series.
None of the Heat leading men appeared in all four games of this season’s series, with Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry each playing in three, and Bam Adebayo in two.
The Heat’s leading scorer in the season series was guard Gabe Vincent, at 21 points per game in his two appearances. Butler averaged 18 points, Lowry and Adebayo 14 apiece.
For the 76ers, Embiid averaged 23.7 points and 13.7 rebounds in his three appearances.
Of facing the Heat, Embiid said Thursday, “I think Toronto actually prepared us extremely well for them, because they’ve got basically the same scheme. They’re going to switch everything. They’ve got a fell fella [Adebayo] that can guard one through five. So this is a good preparation for us. But we know what we got to do.”
The series pits Butler against the team he left in 2019 free agency and also is a homecoming for Lowry, who is from the Philadelphia area and attended Villanova. Philadelphia had been listed as a potential landing spot for Lowry during last summer’s free agency, before he opted for the Heat.
The series also pits 76ers coach Doc Rivers against the Heat, after he had guided the Celtics through previous contentious postseason meetings between the teams.
Rivers said Thursday he appreciates the challenge ahead.
“We’re going to go play grown men, you know, and we’re looking forward to the challenge,” Rivers said.
Rivers also said it was critical to close out the Raptors on Thursday night, otherwise with a quick turnaround from a potential Game 7 against the Raptors on Saturday night in Philadelphia.
“Going to play Miami,” he said, “we really needed the day off.”
And, yes, he even looked ahead to the Heat prior to the closeout victory in Toronto.
“I watched two hours [of video] today,” he acknowledged.
Heat vs. 76ers
Game 1: Monday, FTX Arena TNT.
Game 2: May 4, FTX Arena, TNT.
Game 3: May 6: Wells Fargo Center, ESPN
Game 4: May 8, Wells Fargo Center, TV TBA
Game 5*: May 10, FTX Arena, TNT.
Game 6*: May 12, Wells Fargo Center, ESPN.
Game 7*: May 15, FTX Arena, TV TBA
* – If necessary.
(Note: No local television.)