Preview capsule for the Miami-Philadelphia Eastern Conference semifinal series that starts Sunday:
No. 1 MIAMI HEAT (53-29, 4-1) vs. No. 4 PHILADELPHIA 76ERS (51-31, 4-2)
Season series: Tied, 2-2.
Story line: The series may have turned before it even started when the 76ers announced Friday that Joel Embiid has a right orbital fracture and a mild concussion, making his availability unknown. He was hurt when he was hit in the face by a driving Pascal Siakam late in Philadelphia’s victory over Toronto in Game 6 to wrap up that series. Missing the NBA’s leading scorer and an NBA MVP finalist will make it even tougher for the Sixers to crack the tough Miami defense that limited them to just 100 points per game in the four regular-season meetings,
Key matchup: The Heat defense vs. James Harden. Miami shut down Trae Young in the first round, limiting the All-Star guard who led the NBA in total points and assists to just 15.4 points per game and 31.9% shooting in a five-game victory over Atlanta. With Embiid out, the Heat can turn even more attention to stopping Harden, who didn’t face them after the 76ers acquired him from Brooklyn in February.
Injury watch: Even before the facial injury, Embiid was playing through a right thumb injury. Things are better on the Heat side. Jimmy Butler has returned to practice after missing Game 5 of the first round with a sore knee. Tyler Herro (illness not related to COVID-19) and PJ Tucker (calf) also expect to play Monday in the opener, but Kyle Lowry is out for at least Game 1 after he strained his hamstring in Game 3 against the Hawks.
Numbers of note: Harden played against the Heat just once this season, getting held to 14 points on 4-for-12 shooting in Miami’s 106-93 victory in Brooklyn on Oct. 27. … The 76ers won the one game they played against the Heat without Embiid, hitting 15 3-pointers in a 113-106 victory in Philadelphia on March 21. … Butler averaged 30.5 points in four games against Atlanta, trailing only reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic of Denver for most in the first round. … The 76ers have lost in this round three of the last four years. They haven’t been beyond the Eastern Conference semifinals since making the NBA Finals in 2001.
Prediction: Butler, who previously played in Philadelphia, said he hopes Embiid can recover quickly to play. If he does, this could be a competitive series. If not, it’s hard to see a way the 76ers can cobble together enough points against a defense as good as the Heat’s. Miami in 5.
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