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The young Philadelphia 76ers sure didn’t look the part in Game 1 vs. the Miami Heat. They took their homecourt advantage in stride as the East’s No. 3 seed and made clear to the No. 6 Heat that there won’t be anything setting back this hot team.
This is going to be an interesting style difference. The 76ers are a fast defensive-minded team, while the Heat are a more grind-it-out-style team. And the 76ers are leaning on only a couple veterans with postseason experience, while the Heat are almost entirely postseason-tested. This series could be decided by whoever can control the pace on the floor, and, of course, Joel Embiid’s status will also be a major factor.
If the 76ers can carry their momentum from the regular season into the playoffs, then they’re going to be a dangerous team in the playoffs. They finished the regular season on a 16 game win streak. Embiid, if healthy, and Simmons are one of the NBA’s most dynamic duos. They have the third-best defense and fourth-best net rating in the NBA. They’re an easy favorite.
The Heat haven’t always been consistent, but their depth gives them a lot of versatility. Miami can gain an advantage if they control the pace, forcing Philadelphia to play slow, and use their bench as an advantage. A lot of teams shorten up their rotation in the playoffs. The Heat doesn’t have to do that. They can adjust to whatever Philadelphia is running and counter that.
According to SportsLine data scientist Stephen Oh, the 76ers have a 14.3 percent chance to win the conference and a 3.8 percent chance to win it all. The Heat, on the other hand, has 1.2 percent chance to win the conference and a 0.5 percent chance to win the Finals. SportsLine will have game-by-game gambling advice for every playoff series here.
The Philadelphia 76ers, riding a historic 16-game win streak, host the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the 2018 NBA playoffs Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. The Sixers are seven-point favorites at home, while the over-under, or total points Vegas thinks will be scored, is 212, up two from the opening line.
Before picking either side, you need to read what SportsLine senior analyst Larry Hartstein — who has put together a sizzling run of his own — has to say.
The veteran NBA handicapper is on an epic hot streak when it comes to picking games involving the Heat, nailing 11 of 13 picks for a ridiculous 85 percent payout rate.
On Wednesday, the final day of the regular season, he nailed Miami (-4.5) against the Raptors, a 116-109 Heat victory. He also took Philly (-6.5) in a 130-95 trouncing of Milwaukee to secure the No. 3 seed.
Hartstein has examined every matchup, every player and every trend for Saturday’s showdown and locked in his pick.
He knows the 76ers have more momentum than any team entering the NBA playoffs — ever. The 76ers have won 16 straight, the longest win streak going into the playoffs in NBA history.
They’ll be without star center Joel Embiid for Game 1, but he missed the previous eight games, and Philly won them all. Ben Simmons has certainly been doing his part during this stretch, with five triple-doubles.
Miami, the No. 6 seed, has reason to be confident. The Heat split with the Sixers 2-2 during the regular season, each team winning its games at home. Oddly, Miami had a different leading scorer in each game — Kelly Olynyk, James Johnson, Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside.
None of those players is named Goran Dragic, the team’s leading scorer at 17.3 points per game, who is expected to be fully recovered from a knee injury that has cost him games down the stretch.
In Heat wins, they held Simmons to 10.5 ppg. In Sixers wins, Simmons averaged 19. Against the spread, Miami is just 2-5 in its past seven. Philly is 11-3 but has failed to cover in three of four. Hartstein says the line in this game isn’t where it should be. He’s sharing why, and who to back, at SportsLine.