Awaiting Butler, 76ers visit Heat

November 12, 2018

When the Philadelphia 76ers visit the Miami Heat on Monday night, there will be a pair of interesting trends in play.

It's also a rematch of the first-round playoff series won by the 76ers last season.

This season, Philadelphia (8-6) has the biggest disparity in the NBA between home and away performance: 7-0 at home but 1-6 on the road.

Miami (5-7) has lost two straight games, and the Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards combined to outscore the Heat by 12 points in those two fourth quarters.

But it's really worse than that. Indiana closed Friday's game by outscoring Miami 12-0. Then, on Saturday, Washington started the fourth quarter by going on a 31-12 run.

"We had some moments where I didn't even recognize our team," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Miami's failure to close out those two games.

The 76ers team that takes the court on Monday won't be quite as recognizable, either, and that's due to Saturday's blockbuster trade that sent two Philadelphia starters, Dario Saric and Robert Covington, to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Jimmy Butler.

Philadelphia also sent reserve guard Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second-rick pick to Minnesota to get Butler, a four-time NBA All-Star who has also made second-team All-Defense four times.

But because the trade is not set to become official until Monday, Butler's 76ers debut will likely happen on Wednesday at the Orlando Magic.

That figures to be a break for Miami, which gets a shorthanded 76ers roster without Covington, Saric and Bayless.

"Dario and 'Cov' gave us a lot the past couple of years," 76ers star center Joel Embiid said. "I feel like we were really starting to figure it out, really playing well together."

Indeed, the 76ers finished third in the Eastern Conference during the 2017-2018 regular season with a 52-30 record. Point guard Ben Simmons won NBA Rookie of the Year honors, and Embiid established himself as one of the league's best big men.

The 76ers, with Embiid and Simmons as their anchors, tried to sign free agent LeBron James, and they also attempted to trade for wing Kawhi Leonard.

Philadelphia fell short in both pursuits and finally added Butler as its third star.

"He's a good player, obviously," Embiid said of Butler, who pretty much forced his way out of Minnesota, where he was unhappy. "He's going to help us offensively, and he's one of the best defensive players in the league. I'm excited to see where he takes us."

But until Butler officially signs, the 76ers are expected to surround Embiid and Simmons with a starting lineup that also includes veteran shooter J.J. Redick, rookie guard Landry Shamet of Wichita State and former first-round pick Markelle Fultz. All three of those players are 6-foot-4.

The key players available off the bench are point guard T.J. McConnell, who often plays starter's minutes; and defensive-minded center Amir Johnson.

Miami is expected to start point guard Goran Dragic, wings Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Rodney McGruder, and center Hassan Whiteside.

Dragic, who leads Miami in assists, missed two straight games due to a knee injury and then shot 0-for-7 and went scoreless in his return to action on Saturday. He also had three turnovers and just three assists in 21 minutes.

Wayne Ellington, who can match Redick in terms of shooting ability, is a key member of Miami's bench. Combo guard Tyler Johnson and post players Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo are other reserves to rely on for Spoelstra and the Heat.

Dwyane Wade, who has missed three straight games while on paternity leave, could return to action to strengthen the Heat bench.

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