Heat on series with Sixers, the hottest team in the NBA: ‘Streaks are meant to be broken’

Miami Heat’s Josh Richardson, left, shoots as Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, center, defends while Robert Covington, right, watches during the first half of an NBA basketball gam Friday, Feb. 2, 2018, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

MIAMI – The Heat got a jump on the 2018 postseason Wednesday with a thrilling 116-109 overtime victory over the Raptors in game played in a playoff atmosphere.

Miami’s reward for such a hard-fought victory on the final night of the regular season? Being paired with the hottest team in the league for the first round.

Miami (44-38) secured the No. 6 seed by overcoming an 11-point third-quarter deficit and outscoring Toronto, the conference’s top seed, 11-4 in overtime.

In Philadelphia, the Sixers (52-29) crushed the Bucks to hang onto the No. 3 seed and set up the first round matchup with Miami which begins at 8 p.m. Saturday. (Click here for full schedule).

The Sixers enter the postseason on a 16-game winning streak.

“They have a lot of momentum, they’re playing extremely well, but streaks are meant to be broken,” said Heat guard Wayne Ellington, whose historic night included a career-high 32 points and eight 3-pointers to set the Heat single season record with 227.

The Heat entered the overtime not knowing if they were playing Philadelphia, Boston or Toronto. The victory — coupled with Philadelphia’s win — allowed Miami to jump from No. 7 to No. 6.

The Sixers opened up a stunning 30-point lead on Milwaukee — which started the night as the sixth seed and ended it in the seventh spot — and cruised to 130-95 victory, extending their win streak. Philadelphia’s last loss was 30 days ago to Indiana.

“We have to go in with the focus on ourselves,” James Johnson said. “We can’t worry about what Philadelphia is doing right now. They’ve been playing well. We’ve been trending in the right direction. I think we’re ready.”

The Heat and Sixers played four times this season in a span of 35 days starting Feb. 2 with each winning two at home.  The Heat’s wins were by a combined nine points, and the Sixers’ victories were by a combined eight points.

“You look at our games, we split it 2-2, every game went down to the wire,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We had some crazy games where both teams had big leads, lost leads. This is what you want. The 3-6 matchup is usually very, very competitive.”

The craziest game: On Feb. 14 the Heat blew a 24-point third-quarter lead in Philadelphia, losing 104-102.

“They like to bully a lot of teams,” Josh Richardson said. “We can’t let them come out and hit us in the mouth like they’re used to doing.”

The Sixers play fast. They are fourth in the league in pace with 102.2 offensive possessions per 48 minutes. Philadelphia finished seventh in the league with 109.9 points per game.

The Heat held the Sixers to just under 102 points per game in their four games.

Richardson was asked if one of the keys to beating the Sixers was slowing down the game.

“Nah,” he said. “Just play how we play. We control the pace. If we want to play fast, we play fast. If we want to slow it down, we do it. We don’t let them dictate the way the game is going.”

The biggest question entering the series will be the availability of Philadelphia’s All-Star center Joel Embiid, who underwent surgery to repair a fractured orbital bone two weeks ago. Embiid missed the final eight games and said it was “unlikely” he would play in Game 1.

“He’s a game changer,” Richardson said. “He’s a great player. Every time he steps on the court, he draws everybody’s attention. If he comes back, that’s great for them. But we’re just going to have to accept that assignment.”

When he returns, Embiid will renew his rivalry with Heat center Hassan Whiteside. The two got into a Twitter war during the preseason and the bad blood resurfaced in March, when the teams were playing for the fourth time in five weeks.

Whiteside said at the time he was done talking about Embiid.

“It’s going to be a great series,” Whiteside said. “The energy is going to be (in Philadelphia) and Miami’s going to have the energy. It’s going to be a great playoff series. I think it’s going to be a lot of energy from both sides. It’s going to be a scrappy playoff first round.”

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