The Sixers have no choice but to face demons in the 2024 postseason.

They will face one on Wednesday when the Miami Heat come to Philadelphia in a Play-In game for the right to battle the New York Knicks in the first round of the 2024 playoffs. If they don't exorcise their demons on Wednesday, they will have to play again on Friday for the right to face the demonic Boston Celtics in the first round.

With first-time All-Star Tyrese Maxey now Joel Embiid's unquestioned running mate and decorated head coach Nick Nurse lording over the game from the sideline, there's reason to believe the Sixers can put the woes of the past behind them.

But, it all starts with a team led by Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Erik Spoelstra.

The matchup

Heat guard Terry Rozier was ruled out for the game on Tuesday afternoon due to neck spasms. You might simplify his absence to something like "one less scorer for the Sixers to worry about". That's true, but Miami also feels it in the depth chart.

Rozier, who was acquired before the trade deadline in a deal that sent Kyle Lowry to the Charlotte Hornets, was featured in two of Miami's six most used lineups this season, per Cleaning The Glass:

Rozier-Duncan Robinson-Butler-Nikola Jovic-Adebayo; they were outscored by 5.8 points per 100 possessions in 372 possessions, the most possessions any five-man unit logged for the Heat this season.

Rozier-Tyler Herro-Haywood Highsmith-Butler-Adebayo; they were outscored by 5.7 points per 100 possessions in 119 possessions, the fifth most possessions any five-man unit logged for the Heat this season.

That's just the tip of Miami's uncertainty iceberg.

Lowry, now donning a Sixers uniform, was featured in three of Miami's six most used lineups this season:

Lowry-Robinson-Highsmith-Butler-Adebayo; they outscored the opposition by 10.9 points per 100 possessions in 162 possessions, Miami's most productive lineup all season given our emphasis on sample size.

Lowry-Robinson-Caleb Martin-Butler-Orlando Robinson; they outscored opponents by 3.5 points per 100 possessions in 152 possessions, the fourth most possessions any five-man unit logged for the Heat this season.

Lowry-Jaime Jaquez Jr.-Martin-Butler-Kevin Love; they outscored opponents by 1.7 points per 100 possessions in 118 possessions, the sixth most possessions any five-man unit logged for the Heat this season.

Herro, without one of Rozier and Lowry next to him, was featured in one of Miami's six most used lineups this season:

Herro-Martin-Butler-Jovic-Adebayo; they outscored opponents by 5.2 points per 100 possessions in 212 possessions, the second most possessions any five-man unit logged for the Heat this season.

You can try to get a feel for the replacement levels for Rozier and Lowry by looking at the respective four-man lineups without them. The only four-man group that was good was Herro, Highsmith, Butler, and Adebayo (+19 per 100 possessions in 96 possessions) sans Rozier. The others had limited-to-no sample size, were mediocre, or were outright bad.

The Heat were a below-average team before the Rozier trade. They were better but still not very good after it. And now, Miami will be without the traditional ball-handlers from five of their six most used lineups this season in a one-game battle for the seven seed in the Eastern Conference playoff bracket.

The Heat pride themselves on having a bunch of guys who are jacks of all trades but masters of none. They embody the "next man up" cliche as well as any team in the NBA does. But, without Rozier - and with the guy they traded to get him now standing opposite the Heat - there's uncertainty.

Even with De'Anthony Melton out for the game as he recovers from the back injury that has plagued him for most of the season, Philadelphia doesn't have the uncertainty that the Heat do.

Sure, the Sixers have limited lineup data due to a slew of injuries and some shape-shifting during the midseason transaction period. But, the pieces that have carried them all season are in place.

Philadelphia's most used lineup was Maxey-Melton-Nico Batum-Tobias Harris-Embiid; they outscored opponents by 33.3 points per 100 possessions in 467 possessions. Remove Melton from the equation, and lineups with the other four were plus-7.5 per 100 possessions in 368 possessions.

The Sixers' second most used lineup substituted Kelly Oubre Jr. for Melton in that first group; plus-4.6 per 100 possessions in 282 possessions.

This is where the Sixers look in the mirror and see the Heat. Injuries and roster moves, reserves playing bigger roles than expected to support the team in Embiid's absence. So, let's take the lineup that started the Sixers' critical game against the Orlando Magic on Friday.

When the chips were down, Lowry, Maxey, Oubre, Harris, and Embiid were on the court. That group outscored the opposition by 40 points per 100 possessions in 35 possessions. Far too small of a sample to draw real conclusions, but that group - with Batum playing 30 minutes off the bench - was who Nurse trusted to lead the way in a game with playoff implications.

The Sixers will win if...

- They don't overreact to Butler. He deserves the utmost respect for the legend he's built in the playoffs. But, the Sixers will play into his hands if they treat him as if he's Stephen Curry. Only Butler knows how much more he cares about the playoffs than he does the regular season. But, you can quantify his change in aggression. Butler is a much less conservative jump-shooter in the playoffs than he is in the regular season. He will take his share of jumpers in an effort to stretch the Sixers' defense.

They can't ignore him on the perimeter, but they can't overplay him either. He knows when to cut backdoor, he knows how to use his body to create advantages. Butler knows when he has you contesting without control. He knows when to drive the closeout and when to use a fake to draw a foul.

The Heat offense is at its best when Butler is making plays out of dribble penetration. He knows that, and so he wants you to overreact to his jumper. Treat him like the star he is, but don't treat him like the basketball terminator he's become in some of his great postseason displays. If the Sixers overreact to a good start with poor discipline and ill-timed rotations, his fire grows and lights those of his teammates.

They don't stress out against zone. The Heat will chase through screens for a while, and then suddenly start switching them. They'll hedge and recover. They'll blitz, trap, send late double-teams, and extend ball pressure into the backcourt. But, at the end of the day, Miami loves to make teams embarrass themselves against a zone defense.

In the matchup between these two teams in early April, the Heat tested the Sixers with 2-3, 3-2, 1-3-1, 2-1-2, box-and-1, and triangle-and-2 zones. They were extremely flexible with their personnel in the schemes, sometimes changing zone alignments during possessions.

Philadelphia will inevitably have a bad possession or miss a great look on a possession against the zone from time to time. They cannot panic and let that concern escalate into forced decisions on future possessions against zone. The Sixers have to find the open spaces and make themselves available to the teammate with the ball:

The eyes for flashing to spots against the zone will make Batum and Lowry keys to the game for Philadelphia. Batum knows when to flash high between the post and the ball, stretching the space for long entry passes inside. Ideally, one of those two veterans needs to be on the court at all times.

The Sixers will lose if...

- They neglect the details of team defense. Miami will test Philadelphia's connectivity and attention on defense. The Heat love to set back screens, forcing defenses to shirk their intended schemes in favor of emergency switching because they didn't communicate on the action. Philadelphia cannot make a habit of falling asleep off the ball or taking help position too far away from shooters. They have to execute their tags on screen actions, accounting for floating shooters and diving rollers.

They let Miami attack with transition offense. The Heat are not exactly famous for their halfcourt offense. They want to score on the run, taking advantage of opportunities against an unset defense. The more bad possessions the Sixers have against zone, the more live-ball turnovers they commit, the greater the chance there is of a Heat role player going on a heater from three-point range.

Even with Embiid missing 29 games due to the left knee injury, the Sixers botched a handful of winnable games during that stretch. They lost a tiebreaker on the last day of the regular season to fall into the Play-In tournament.

They determined their own playoff seeding fate, and they will determine whether they win or lose on Wednesday.

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Gallery Credit: Josh Hennig

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