The Heat’s top spot is set for another test against the 76ers
A bad week is set to continue for the Miami Heat, who have been up against superstar after superstar lately.
On Saturday night, the Heat will host the Philadelphia 76ers, who have the NBA’s leading scorer, Joel Embiid (29.6 points per game). The 76ers also recently added 10-time All-Star James Harden, a former league MVP.
Philadelphia is 4-0 since Harden made his 76ers debut last week, including a 125-119 win over the visiting Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.
“We’re all going together,” said Embiid, one of the frontrunners in the MVP race.
Before facing Embiid and Harden, the Heat started their week with a victory over the Chicago Bulls and DeMar DeRozan on Monday. Miami lost to the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo on Wednesday, then beat the Brooklyn Nets in Kevin Durant’s return to action on Thursday.
Five-time All-Star DeRozan ranks fourth in the league with 28.1 points per game. Antetokounmpo, two-time NBA MVP and six-time All-Star, is second with 29.4 points, and Durant (29.3 ppg), two-time MVP and 12-time All-Star, would be third if he had played enough. games to qualify.
To add a degree of difficulty to Miami’s run, the Heat were without three starters — Kyle Lowry (personal reasons), Jimmy Butler (left big toe) and PJ Tucker (left knee) — for Thursday’s game in Brooklyn.
“These aren’t long-term issues, but they can be if they’re not resolved,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Butler and Tucker’s injuries. “We’ll see where they are on Saturday.”
Saturday’s game will feature the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, with first-place Miami holding a two-game advantage over Philadelphia.
What’s made Embiid and Harden click — at least so far — is that they both draw double teams and reach the foul line more than perhaps any other duo in the NBA.
Friday against Cleveland, Embiid and Harden combined to make 19 of 21 free throws. The Sixers also got 33 points from Tyrese Maxey, the Kentucky sophomore guard whose development makes Philadelphia even more dangerous.
“When you get a guy like James and Joel with what we have (elsewhere), we have a chance,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said. “We have a real chance (for a championship), and you don’t have much.”
The Heat, who are 1-1 against the 76ers this season, also have a chance.
Miami has five wins in its last six games and holds the best home record in the Eastern Conference at 21-7. Butler leads the Heat in scoring (21.4 ppg) despite shooting just 19% from 3-point range.
Tucker is averaging just 8.3 points, but he plays solid defense and leads the NBA in 3-point percentage (45.2). Lowry leads Miami in assists (7.9 per game) and is averaging 13.4 points.
The Heat’s talent pool also looks set to grow, as The Athletic reported that Victor Oladipo is set to make his season debut on Monday against the visiting Houston Rockets. Two-time All-Star Oladipo has been sidelined since undergoing quadriceps surgery last spring.
Copyright 2022 STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.