Game: Miami Heat @ Philadelphia 76ers
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Odds: Heat +3, Sixers -3
The Miami Heat were one win away from a trip to the NBA Finals last year. Fast forward a year and now the Heat face a must-win against the Philadelphia 76ers tonight in a fight to earn a guaranteed playoff spot. Miami is currently in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, which would require the Heat to participate in at least one play-in game to guarantee a spot in the postseason’s official first round.
However, Miami still has time to avoid the play-in, and its matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night might increase its chances of doing so. The sixth-place Brooklyn Nets (42-37) hold the tiebreaker over Miami thanks to a three-game season series sweep. The Heat (42-37) were one game back as of Wednesday. Therefore, the Heat must surpass Brooklyn’s record rather than just match it. That makes Thursday’s game essentially a must-win if they want to avoid the play-in.
Miami’s situation looked dire when it dropped three straight games to end the month of March, but the Heat have since won back-to-back games, including Tuesday’s road victory over the Detroit Pistons, 118-105. Jimmy Butler scored 18 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
Philadelphia (52-27), like the Heat, still has a chance to boost its postseason chances after defeating the Celtics 103-101 on Tuesday to close the gap on Boston for the No. 2 seed in the East to two games. Joel Embiid scored 52 points and had 13 rebounds. He hit 20-of-25 shots to give him his fifth 50-point-plus NBA game. That performance pushes the Sixers big man a step closer to the league MVP award.
With 53.3 seconds left, Philadelphia had a six-point lead, but with two seconds to play, the Celtics had closed the gap to two points. The Sixers managed to survive the close call thanks to Jayson Tatum’s missed two-point attempt at the buzzer. Boston head coach Doc Rivers stated that his team needs to improve during the final week of the regular season in preparation for the playoffs.
A Miami team that has recently been able to contain Embiid might make it more difficult for him to get going. Embiid is averaging 21.3 points and has scored over 25 points just once in his last six games against the Heat. That includes four games during the postseason.
The teams split a pair of games earlier in the season, so Thursday’s game will decide who wins the season series. The Sixers are 12-5 SU in their last 17 games and they have won five of their last six at home. Philadelphia has won 13 of the last 18 games it has played against Miami.
The Heat, who won their last two games, are just 1-4 ATS in their last five and 1-5 ATS in their last six road games. In five of the last six games in this series, the Under has cashed a winning ticket.
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