Sixers analysis

Nurse preps Sixers for ‘super intense, physical' game, leans on Lowry's expertise 

The Sixers are gearing up for the defending Eastern Conference champions.

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Anything can happen in games with heightened stakes and desperation.

Still, head coach Nick Nurse and the Sixers believe they know the essence of what the Heat will bring to Wednesday night’s play-in tournament matchup at Wells Fargo Center.

“I can remember about my last 12 games with them,” Nurse said following the Sixers’ practice Monday, “and they’re always hard-played, super intense, physical games. So that’s OK. That’s what we think we are, too. We want to go out there and scrap with you. Sometimes you’ve got to get ready to do it right from the jump against these guys. 

“Obviously they’ve got a bunch of other things. (Bam Adebayo’s) a great player, (Jimmy Butler’s) a great player. They’ve got unbelievable complementary pieces. … Their health issues are improving. (Tyler) Herro’s back playing. (Duncan) Robinson’s a great shooter. (Terry) Rozier’s into the fold and explosive. So tons of talents and tons of scoring options that you’ve got to keep your eye on. There’s lots of matchups that we have to play. We just have to prepare for it all.”

This play-in tournament will be Nurse’s second straight. His final game as Raptors coach was a defeat to the Bulls in the No. 9 vs. No. 10 game last year. Miami then stormed past Chicago down the stretch to reach the playoffs and made an improbable, gutsy run to win the Eastern Conference. 

So yes, nearly everything is on the table once the regular season ends. But it’s certainly safe to say six-time All-Star and one-time Sixer Jimmy Butler will play a central role in Wednesday’s contest.  

“They’ve got the ball in his hands a lot, right? He’s a multi-level scorer,” Nurse said. “He’s going to drive it. … He creates a lot of offense for others out of his driving.

“He’s got a post-up game. If you’re going to be into some switching, they’re going to immediately try to take him in there if they think they’ve got an advantage, which throws you into a whole other set of schemes. … And then you’ve got to decide are you in positions at some point in the game where you’re going to try to get the ball out of his hands? Which means are you going to send people from the perimeter if they’re in a screen-and-roll? Are you going to double him? 

“So there’s plenty. I usually say that you’ve got to make those guys work for all their touches. You’ve got to have a lot of matchups ready to go personnel-wise. And then you’ve got to have a bunch of schemes all ready to go and as the game unfolds, see which ones you need to use.”

Nurse said the Sixers highlighted their defense in the film room Monday and drilled their offense on the court. They plan to do the opposite Tuesday, and then they’ve got a game to play.

According to Nurse, Joel Embiid was a full practice participant. De’Anthony Melton (lumbar spine injury) did not practice and Nurse expects Robert Covington (left knee bone bruise) to remain out through the playoffs.

Embiid sat out the Sixers’ last regular-season game vs. the Nets after a left knee injury scare in the team’s victory Friday over the Magic.

“He made shots,” Kelly Oubre Jr. said of Embiid at practice. “He looked normal, he looked like himself. But you could definitely tell the seriousness of his face. In his work ethic and everything he’s doing, the way he’s carrying himself, he wants to win. It was good to see him moving and doing his thing.”

KJ Martin also sat out the Sixers’ finale. He’d missed their prior two games with a left great toe contusion, too. 

“I feel solid,” said Martin, who played 21 minutes off the bench in the Sixers’ April 4 win in Miami. “I went through practice today. We’ve still got a day off tomorrow before Wednesday, so I’m going to continue to ice it and get it as fresh as possible.” 

As Nurse works to anticipate Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra’s schemes and prepare his team for all the possibilities, Kyle Lowry is a uniquely handy resource. 

Lowry was starting games for the Heat less than three months ago. Now, the 38-year-old point guard is passing along some of what he learned from his time in Miami.

“I think in general, I would lean on him, as I do with some of the other vets,” Nurse said. “Obviously, with our little bit longer relationship, I probably have a little bit more conversations with him just because of the comfort factor. He knows a lot of what I’m thinking and I know what he’s thinking a little. We go over some of that stuff. 

“But certainly, in this (matchup), he knows this team very well. … He knows the personnel and he knows some inner workings of things that he thinks they might do. We’ve been talking about those this morning.” 

While Lowry’s expertise on Miami’s X’s and O’s is nice to have, Nurse’s main message to the Sixers isn’t very complicated. 

“We understand that this is a really good team,” he said. “We understand that when we go out there, we’ve got to play and we’ve got to play our asses off. That’s it, man. 

“Go out there and play your asses off, and let the chips fall where they may.”

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