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Unless Joel Embiid returns to the court, the Philadelphia 76ers have no shot of beating the Miami Heat

Embiid's absence is a huge loss for Philadelphia, but it provides them an opportunity to see just what James Harden is still capable of
Unless Joel Embiid returns to the court, the Philadelphia 76ers have no shot of beating the Miami Heat

Since arriving in Philadelphia, James Harden hasn’t been himself, and now he has a more significant burden to carry on his own in Embiid’s absence.

The Toronto Raptors gave the Philadelphia 76ers a run for their money in the two teams’ first-round playoff series, despite Philly taking an early 3-0 series lead. And just when it seemed like the Sixers were ready to head into the Eastern Conference Semifinals after being pushed to Game 6 by Toronto, Joel Embiid suffered an orbital fracture that put his status for the second round in serious jeopardy.

Embiid was quickly ruled out for the first two games of the series. Unsurprisingly, Philadelphia struggled in Game 1 against the Miami Heat on their way to an uncompetitive double-digit loss. Embiid is responsible for such a large part of the 76ers success when he’s on the court that it only makes sense that his absence was the biggest reason for their struggles. And until he returns to the court, Philadelphia has no shot of beating Miami in this series.

Embiid’s impact on the 76ers was hard to miss in Game 1

“JoJo” didn’t take the court in Game 1, and his impact, or lack thereof, was felt by both teams. Philly still has a ton of talent on their roster, with James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, and Tobias Harris leading the way. But Embiid was the glue that held everything together.

Harden, in particular, just has not seemed to gel with the rest of his team ever since the Sixers picked him up at the trade deadline. Even when Embiid played, Harden struggled to hit his shots or even assert himself to get his shots in the first place. Now it’s on Harden to step up and take control of this team, which is something he at least seems to recognize:

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“Obviously we’re missing Joel, but it’s out of our control. We got to go out there and man up and be great, and I know we will.” James Harden

Harden has led teams on deep playoff runs on his own before, but it remains to be seen whether he can pull that off with this 76ers team. Since arriving in Philadelphia, he hasn’t been himself, and now he has a more significant burden to carry on his own in Embiid’s absence.

The 76ers have no margin for error against the Heat without Embiid

The Sixers probably didn’t have much room for error heading into this series, even if Embiid was healthy. That margin for error has been reduced to virtually nothing, something 76ers head coach Doc Rivers referenced after Game 1:

“Very similar to the [first round against] Toronto, in that we told our guys they can’t have more rebounds than us, they can’t force turnovers because they can’t have more shots than us. We’re working with a small margin for error, so we can’t give a team 13 extra shots on the road without Joel and think we’re going to win a game.” Doc Rivers

Part of the reason is simply because of how good the Heat are. Bam Adebayo feasted on DeAndre Jordan and Paul Reed in Game 1, and that’s almost certainly going to continue moving forward. The Heat did not play very well in Game 1; the 76ers just managed to play worse than them.

And therein lies the issue for Philadelphia. Even when Miami isn’t playing their best basketball, they are still miles ahead of Philly without Embiid on the court. It will take either a miraculous return to form from Harden or Embiid returning to the court for this series to be competitive. And as of right now, neither looks likely to happen, meaning this could be a short series for Miami and Philadelphia.

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