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What schemes are in store for Sixers-Heat? Breaking down the play-in matchup originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Both the Sixers and Heat have grown familiar with playing well below full strength.

Ultimately, it appears the April 4 Sixers-Miami meeting isn’t dramatically different from how the teams will look in the play-tournament. That 109-105 Sixers win is the only time Joel Embiid faced the Heat this season.

So, what’s worth keeping in mind from the film of that night? And what will we see Wednesday?

Sticking with the same set

The Sixers kept on running the same called play early that evening at Kaysea Center and kept enjoying the results. It fueled a fantastic 17-2 start.

Kelly Oubre Jr. used Embiid’s back screen to break open for a slam.

Miami’s defense took that away on its next half-court possession. Embiid then set a down screen for Tyrese Maxey and came back for a pick-and-roll, freeing Maxey to sink a pull-up three-pointer.

By our count, the Sixers have run the identical set to open the game in every subsequent contest that’s included Embiid.

It’s a nice way to get their two All-Stars working in tandem right away. And perhaps Sixers head coach Nick Nurse will look to surprise Miami with a new wrinkle Wednesday night.

Handling the Heat’s fronting

While Nurse wasn’t inclined to discuss his team’s offensive preparation in detail Monday, it sounds like the Sixers have been studying the Heat’s defensive history and tendencies.

“We just see the way they’ve covered certain things,” Nurse said. “Even historically, we go back through the years to see how (Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra) has guarded Joel. And just working our way through that stuff — how we’re going to counter it when we see it or what it looks like when we do see it.”

Fronting Embiid and having a second defender lurking behind was one strategy Miami employed during the 2022 playoffs.

If the Sixers can’t find a viable entry pass to Embiid, sometimes a little improvisational excellence might be necessary. Maxey delivered with a step-back baseline jumper late in the fourth quarter.

The textbook approach against fronting is an old-fashioned high-low dish. Nicolas Batum is as good as it gets on those feeds.

Simple solutions won’t often be available, but it’s clear that high-lows (and Batum entry passes) should be the Sixers’ Plan A when Miami opts to front Embiid.

No question zone is coming

The Heat’s zone defense was highly effective in the second quarter on April 4.

The Sixers know they’ll see it again Wednesday. Miami’s well-honed zone helped the Heat rank sixth this season in half-court defense (96.4 points allowed per 100 half-court plays), according to Cleaning the Glass.

“I guess it’s a 2-3, but they pull those wing guys way up,” Nurse said. “They really try to keep the ball from going to the corner, because of how high they pull their wing guys up. There’s certain things that they’re willing to live with that I think fall into an analytical mindset. But it’s a little different.

“You don’t (typically) see the wing guys covering up so high. … And their communication is really good. They’re really talking about who’s going where, talking through cutters. They really seem to do a good job of getting matched up in it.”

Stagnant Sixers possessions in which Embiid doesn’t touch the ball will generally be positive in the Heat’s book. There’s sometimes a fine line between shooting open jumpers without hesitation and settling for lightly or moderately contested looks.

And as Nurse noted, the Heat’s zone is relatively active. Even on the possessions Miami doesn’t apply ball pressure, the Heat’s wings are glad to punish casual passes.

Savvy vets could be vital

Maxey vs. Duncan Robinson is a matchup both teams understand favors the Sixers.

So, when the Sixers drew that desired switch in Miami, Spoelstra responded by having Caleb Martin waiting to send a hard double team.

Veterans Kyle Lowry and Batum are awfully valuable when Miami uses those sorts of aggressive schemes. Lowry served as a release valve on the left wing and immediately swung the ball to Batum in the corner. Paul Reed then flashed to the elbow and capitalized on the Heat’s off-balance defense with a driving layup.

A minute or so later, Batum made a basic, quick pass back to Maxey. That prevented Martin from managing a true double team and gave Maxey an inviting lane to drive on his right hand.

The sharpshooting Robinson missed Miami’s last four games with a recurring back injury. Tyler Herro came back from a right foot injury to play in the Heat’s final six contests. Regardless of exactly who Miami has available Wednesday, the Sixers will presumably look to generate mismatches and be ready for ways the Heat might counter that.

Batum and Lowry have essentially seen it all in the NBA. For Lowry, that includes being Heat star Jimmy Butler’s teammate.

Lowry was the Sixers’ primary defender on Butler on April 4 and did sturdy work. As the Heat know, Lowry doesn’t get pushed around in the post and has an exceptional feel for the game.

With Miami wanting Butler to take charge in the clutch, Lowry read the Heat’s Chicago action (down screen into handoff) and blew it up, creating a crucial Oubre fast-break hoop.

The Sixers’ stars will obviously play the largest roles Wednesday, but their veterans’ anticipation and intelligence may very well have a major impact vs. Miami.

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