NBA: In 0-2 hole, heat check hits 76ers minus Joel Embiid
The 76ers are back home and desperate for a turnaround in Philadelphia. Any rally from a 2-0 series deficit must happen without MVP candidate Joel Embiid.
With the Miami Heat in control of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals, Philadelphia officially ruled out Embiid with myriad battle wounds from the 76ers’ first-round series win over Toronto.
The Sixers practiced on Thursday before the verdict came later in the night: Embiid is a no-go.
“They’re coming home. Obviously, they are in an 0-2 hole, so I do expect him to play,” Heat forward Bam Adebayo said before the injury report was released.
Sixers coach Doc Rivers had “no update” to Embiid’s status on Thursday and had only seen his franchise centerpiece via FaceTime in recent days. Rivers said Embiid is still in concussion protocol, but has “hurdles to clear” with his other injuries as well. Embiid has an orbital fracture and a torn ligament in his thumb.
His return, even at less than full strength, might put a spring in Philly’s step. But that bounce will not come until at least Game 4, putting the onus on the rest of the usual supporting cast to play starring role without the All-Star in the middle.
“How much attention he’s gonna draw from everybody when he’s on the floor whether he’s on the perimeter, at the elbow, on the block,” Heat forward Jimmy Butler said. “What he does defensively for those guys is pretty incredible too. I’m not a statistics guy or analytics, but I can tell you, whenever he’s on the floor, they are a much better team. I want him to get right because we want to play against who I call the MVP.”
Shooting has been dismal for the Sixers in the series, but Rivers said shot selection and his perspective that good shots are available are selling points to motivate Philadelphia for Friday’s pivotal game. Philadelphia made just 21.9 percent (14 of 64) from 3-point range in the first two games of this series.
Embiid has done only light workouts — very little, in Rivers’ words — since his head injuries April 28 at Toronto. He led the NBA in scoring (30.6). He also averaged 11.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists.
“We don’t have a big man right now,” Rivers said. “He’s got so many steps to go through (in concussion protocols). I don’t think he’s cleared any of them yet.”
There could be a shift in the rotation on Friday, but Rivers can’t likely avoid playing DeAndre Jordan big minutes against Adebayo. Jordan has a plus-minus of -22 in the series.
Home court could be a benefit to the Sixers. Philadelphia went 24-17 at home this season, which is identical to Miami’s road record.
The Sixers shot 36.4 percent from 3-point range in the regular season, relying on players such as Tyrese Maxey (42.7 percent); Georges Niang (40.3); Seth Curry (40.0); Embiid (37.1); and Tobias Harris (36.7).
Niang went 0-for-7 from distance in Game 1 and fouling out in just 10 minutes and five points in Game 2.
Here’s the 3-point shooting in this series from other struggling Sixers: Danny Green 2-for-14; Maxey 2-for-10; James Harden 3-for-12; and Harris 3-for-9.
“We’ve got to make shots,” said Harden, who is averaging 18.0 points in the series. “It’s simple.”
Maxey is averaging a team-high 26.5 points in this series, and Harris is averaging 23.0 points.
“We’ve got to go back to the drawing board,” Maxey said. “We have to figure it out.”
The Heat have never lost a playoff series after taking a 2-0 lead, going 18-0, while the Sixers are 0-19 after going down 2-0.
History aside, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra wants to guard against overconfidence.
“It’s never easy to get playoff wins,” he said.
Butler and Adebayo are playing well with the staring unit and Tyler Herro remains the one player Rivers said he doesn’t want the 76ers to leave alone.
Adebayo is averaging 23.5 points and 10.5 rebounds against Embiid’s fill-ins. Herro is averaging 21.5 points, and Butler has been an all-around force with 18.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and a team-high 7.5 assists in building the 2-0 lead.
Miami is playing without starting point guard Kyle Lowry, who is questionable due to a strained hamstring. Lowry is lobbying to return on Friday, but Spoelstra said the team is being cautious.
“We’re not basing our decisions on whether we are winning or losing,” Spoelstra said. “It’s about what we think is best.”
The Heat also listed Herro and defensive stopper P.J. Tucker (calf) as questionable. Both played in Game 2 and Tucker, part of the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks last season, made it sound like he’s not sitting.
“It’s about who’s built for this,” Tucker said of the playoff injury report earlier this week. “Who’s going to put the mask on, knee sleeve on, and icy hot and going to give you what I got.”
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