First-place Heat set for another test against 76ers


A wicked week is set to continue for the Miami Heat, who have faced 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 all just fit together,” said Embiid, one of the front-runners in the MVP race.

Before they face Embiid and Harden, the Heat started their week with a win 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.

DeRozan, a five-time All-Star, ranks fourth in the league in scoring at 28.1 points per game. Antetokounmpo, a two-time NBA MVP and six-time All-Star, is second in scoring at 29.4, and Durant (29.3 ppg), a two-time MVP and 12-time All-Star, would be third had he 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 P.J. Tucker (left knee) — for Thursday’s game in Brooklyn.

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“They are not long-term issues, but they can be if they’re not addressed,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of the Butler and Tucker injuries. “We’ll see where they’re at on Saturday.”

The Saturday matchup will feature the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, with first-place Miami holding a two-game advantage on Philadelphia.

What has made Embiid and Harden click — at least so far — is that they both draw double-teams and get to the foul line more than perhaps any other duo in the NBA.

On Friday against Cleveland, Embiid and Harden combined to make 19 of 21 free throws. The Sixers also got 33 points from Tyrese Maxey, the second-year guard out of Kentucky whose development is making Philadelphia even more dangerous.

“When you get a guy like James and Joel together with what we have (elsewhere), we have a shot,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said. “We have a real shot (for a championship), and you don’t get many of those.”

The Heat, who are 1-1 against the 76ers this season, have a shot, too.

Miami has five wins in its past six games and owns the Eastern Conference’s best home record at 21-7. Butler leads the Heat in scoring (21.4 points per game) despite shooting just 19 percent from 3-point range.

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Tucker is averaging just 8.3 points, but he plays tough defense and leads the NBA in 3-point percentage (45.2). Lowry tops Miami in assists (7.9 per game) and is averaging 13.4 points.

The Heat’s talent pool appears ready to grow, too, as The Athletic reported that Victor Oladipo is expected to make his season debut Monday against the visiting Houston Rockets. Oladipo, a two-time All-Star, has been sidelined since undergoing quadriceps surgery last spring.

–Field Level Media



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