One of the most intriguing matchups of the second round pits the Philadelphia 76ers against the Miami Heat. The 76ers return to the semifinals for a second-straight season, after falling to the Atlanta Hawks in 2021. This time around, Philadelphia will be without their MVP candidate, Joel Embiid. He has been ruled out indefinitely due to an orbital fracture and mild concussion. The chances of Embiid returning for the series are low. He averaged 26.2 points and 11.3 rebounds per night in the 4-2 series win over the Toronto Raptors.
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The Heat look dominant following their 4-1 series win against the Hawks. Jimmy Butler was sensational in the series, averaging just above 30 points per game to go along with seven rebounds and five assists. He averaged 12.5 points in the restricted area in the first round. That is the second-most restricted area points per game in the postseason, trailing only the 15.6 per game from Giannis Antetokounmpo.
It is also an improvement on the 7.2 that Butler averaged during the regular season. It will undoubtedly be a battle for Philadelphia fans, as they wish to see their team back in the conference finals for the first time since 2001. Red-hot Miami is playing with swagger, and few teams can match that level right now. The Heat look to return to the conference finals for the first time in two seasons.
Miami Heat X-Factor: Bam Adebayo
With Embiid out indefinitely, look for Bam Adebayo to have a fantastic series. He does not need to worry about collecting fouls, and for Miami, there’s no need to double whomever the Sixers offer as Embiid’s replacement. Adebayo is a tremendous defensive player on his own, and now he can save some of his energy for offense. With Embiid’s absence, this series now comes with an asterisk, but Adebayo has a chance to rule. He averaged 12 points to go along with eight rebounds against the Hawks, but look for those numbers to skyrocket.
Philadelphia 76ers X-Factor: James Harden
Philadelphia will need James Harden to step up more than ever. Harden’s involvement throughout the series will be answer a lot of questions. On one hand, he could become the dominant ball handler and playmaker as fans have seen before. He guided the offense and got everyone in the proper position to be effective. On the other hand, he will likely be guarded by Butler. Tyrese Maxey, who has been sensational, will need help from Harden if Philadelphia makes it through.
Series Prediction: Miami Heat 4 – Philadelphia 76ers 1
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