Philadelphia lost a third game in a row on Wednesday, going down 108-116 in a see-sawing game against the Nets. Ben Simmons was extremely efficient on his way to 24 points and seven assists, while Joel Embiid had 29 points and 14 boards, but it wasn’t enough to get the 76ers over the line.
They now sit at .500 with a record of 24-24. They are in eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings, holding on to a playoff spot by just a solitary game.
Miami are coming off a terrific January, but were unable to finish it off with a victory when they went down 89-91 against Cleveland on Wednesday. Goran Dragic was as steady as ever with 18 points and six assists, while Justise Winslow provided a spark off the bench with nine points, ten boards and some solid defense against LeBron James.
They are in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 29-22. They are stuck amidst a cluster of teams, with only two games separating Cleveland in third place and Indiana in sixth.
Three keys to the game
Are the 76ers out of touch? - Philly have lost three games in a row, but prior to Wednesday’s game against Brooklyn had been playing decent basketball. They lost in Oklahoma City and then in Milwaukee, and in both games were in it until late. Often though, losses lead to bad form, rather than the other way around, and an eight point loss to the Nets was a disappointing result. The 76ers struggled on defense, allowing a team ranked 25th in offensive rating to shoot over 50% on their way to 116 points.
Erratic Whiteside - Whiteside can be a dominant player, able to score heavily and protect the rim, but often he simply doesn’t bring it. For the year he averages 14.4 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks, but his actual game log makes for bizarre reading. In his past eight games, for example, he has scored 22 points or more on four occasions, and failed to surpass ten points in the rest. When he shows up he makes Miami a substantially better team, and they will be hoping he can bring it against Joel Embiid in this one.
Second chance points - The 76ers score a lot of points in this way, thanks largely to Embiid but also due to a generally tall lineup. Their 13.7 second chance points is third in the league, but they won’t have it easy on the offensive glass against a Heat team which is seventh in the league at defending this category. Whiteside has a large role to play in this, another reason why he will need to bring his best.
Matchup to watch
Goran Dragic vs Ben Simmons - A strange matchup will see one of the league’s most reliable point guards come up against one of the most enigmatic. Dragic was rewarded for his steady season with a late call-up to the all-star game, owing to his 17 point, 4.1 rebound, 4.8 assist season which has led the Heat to fourth place in the east. Ten years younger and seven inches taller, Simmons is having one of the better rookie seasons in recent memories. He is averaging 16.7 points, 7.1 boards, 7.8 dimes and 1.8 blocks, and likely feels that he deserved an all-star spot ahead of Dragic. There may be a little extra spice in this matchup as a result, and who comes out on top will have a major influence on the outcome of the game.
Philadelphia 76ers predicted starting lineup
PG - Ben Simmons | SG - JJ Redick | SF - Robert Covington | PF - Dario Saric | C - Joel Embiid
Miami Heat predicted starting lineup
PG - Goran Dragic | SG - Tyler Johnson | SF - Josh Richardson | PF - James Johnson | C - Hassan Whiteside
Dragic’s stats are pretty steady against most teams, and Philadelphia are no exception. He averages 12.8 points per game on 48% shooting against them, while also grabbing 3.3 rebounds, dishing out 4.1 assists, and contribution 1.3 steals.
Whiteside has been hugely impressive in nine career games against the 76ers. He scores 16.3 points per night on 60% shooting, grabs 3.1 rebounds, and swats a huge 3.2 shots per night against them.
The 76ers have been given favoritism in this game, having been handicapped 4.5 points by odds makers, and Miami are a good bet to cover this line. Though the game is being played in Philadelphia, neither team has shown a particularly strong affinity for home games this season, and Miami have simply been in better form of late. They may not win, but they should be able to keep it close enough to cover this line.
This will be a close one. Philadelphia are undoubtedly the more talented team, and will have the two best players on the floor, but Miami have been a better team for much of the year and particularly in the past month.
Embiid and Whiteside will have an important battle at the center position, and if either can get significantly on top of the other their team may just come out victorious. Against such a talented opponent, expect Whiteside to bring his a-game and put up a big double-double.
This game could come down to the final possession, but the 76ers will just manage to scrape out a victory. They’ll snap a three game losing streak with a 101-98 victory.
The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN. Tip-off is at 8pm ET.