The Miami Heat easily dispatched the Atlanta Hawks as they cruised to a 4-1 series victory in the opening round of the 2022 NBA Playoffs. Now set to play in the second round, they will be matching up against the Philadelphia 76ers, who are coming off a 4-2 series win over the Toronto Raptors.
Doc Rivers' squad is definitely a ton to handle for any team, especially with the prolific duo of James Harden and Joel Embiid in their corner. However, the status of the Sixers' star big man is still up in the air due to a facial injury which can have major implications on the impending result of the Heat-Sixers matchup. Embiid suffered an orbital fracture and is currently without a timetable to return.
Erik Spoelstra and the Heat will be looking to apply pressure early in the series in order to grab an early lead against the Sixers and keep momentum in their favor.
With that said, let's take a look at three bold predictions for the Heat in the 2022 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the 76ers.
3 bold predictions for Heat in 2022 Eastern Conference Semifinals
3. Victor Oladipo will step up against the Sixers.
Victor Oladipo has seen limited appearances across the past few years after battling a handful of injuries. In Game 4 against Atlanta, he finally rejoined the Heat in their ongoing playoff campaign. Oladipo came off the bench and collected 6 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists across 23 minutes in a 110-86 victory.
In Game 5, Jimmy Butler joined Kyle Lowry on the bench due to a knee injury. Oladipo started in his place and led the team in scoring with 23 points to go with 3 assists and 1 rebound. His level of production was a major boost as the Heat escaped with a 97-94 win to advance to the next round.
Given Butler's injury situation, the Heat are expected to ease him into action against the Sixers, which will open the door for more opportunities for Oladipo. If Dipo can play well in this series, it would provide yet another weapon for Miami that the Sixers will have to focus on. Injuries have left Oladipo as somewhat of an afterthought, but as he showed in Game 5, he's capable of heating up in a heartbeat. If Oladipo manages to make his presence felt with or without Butler and Lowry on the floor then the Heat will only be tougher to beat moving forward.
2. Bam Adebayo will play at a higher level in this series.
Bam Adebayo hasn't played his best in the series against the Hawks, largely because Jimmy Butler had been going nuclear with huge outings. To add, a dominant outing from Adebayo was never even necessary, as the Heat were comfortably in control throughout most of the series. Against Atlanta, Adebayo only averaged 12.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 3.6 assists in five games, but he should play a bigger role against the Sixers.
The dynamic will be much different in this series against the 76ers. Although Embiid's status is still unclear, the Heat should still expect and prepare as if he is healthy. Everyone knows how talented Embiid is and that he's a finalist for the MVP for a reason.
Adebayo will definitely be challenged and should expect to get his hands full as he tries to limit the production of Embiid whenever he's on the floor. The battle on the interior will be critical towards Miami's success in this series, and Adebayo will look to step up with Butler and Lowry both not quite at 100% health.
1. The Heat will close out the 76ers in 6 games.
The fate of this series will primarily revolve around Joel Embiid's injury status after suffering an orbital fracture in their opening-round series against the Hawks. Yes, they still have James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, and Tobias Harris which is certainly a group that can deal a significant amount of damage against any team in the playoffs.
However, it remains to be seen if it will be enough to overcome a gritty Heat squad that also has a deep roster of its own. If Embiid can return in the early stages of this series then the 76ers are still in the thick of things to pull away with a victory. However, Philly will definitely be doomed if Embiid can only play a game or two, or even worst, be forced to sit out the entire series due to the injury.
All in all, Erik Spoelstra's squad is just healthier at this point which can give them a major edge in this matchup, especially since the 76ers might miss the services of an MVP-caliber player in Embiid. If he will be sidelined for a significant number of games in this series then there is a huge chance that Miami can eliminate Philadelphia in six games.