TORONTO — The North is not The Problem. It never was. The networks sold the series they had to sell, but the first three games of Sixers-Raptors have laid bare the talent disparity between these two teams. There are three classes of teams in the modern-day NBA: the Haves, the Have-Nots, and the First-Round Filler. The only thing the Sixers will prove whenever they finish off the Raptors is that they belong on a different side of the hierarchical divide. Next up? Yeah, here comes The Problem.

There’s a school of thought that the Sixers somehow lucked out by drawing a bracket that left them staring at a matchup with the Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals. It’s a conclusion that is based on plenty of valid premises, first and foremost that avoiding the Bucks, Celtics, or Nets is a goal that NBA teams are wise to seek.

But there’s a faulty assumption baked into the notion that a Sixers-Heat series is some kind of win for the good guys, one that frames Miami’s first-place finish atop the regular-season standings as somehow overstating its championship credentials. And that’s a curious way to think.

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Let’s not beat around the bush. Jimmy Butler and Kyle Lowry are maniacs. And that’s a feature, not a bug. Anybody who saw the look in Butler’s eyes as he dropped 45 on the Hawks in Game 2 should understand why he is going to be a problem next round. The national audience may not remember Butler’s performance for the Sixers during the 2018-19 postseason, but Sixers fans should.

Frankly, there’s something fitting about the fact that they can secure a matchup with Mr. Buckets by sweeping the Raptors on Saturday. In Game 3, Joel Embiid exorcised a demon. In Game 4, the Sixers can invite one back into their midst.

Really, there will be two demons staring them in the face. Butler, first and foremost. When he willed the Sixers to the precipice of the Eastern Conference finals in the face of an all-time performance by Kawhi Leonard, it should have been the first in a long line of playoff runs led by him and Embiid. The details of what happened next have never been made entirely clear. Whatever they were, it happened, and the Sixers have spent much of the last three years attempting to make up for their justifiable but errant decision to give Butler an offer that he could refuse. Ben Simmons and Brett Brown returned, Butler did not, and it all played out as karma probably suggested.

But let’s not forget about Lowry. He’s been a thorn in the Sixers’ side as long as the Sixers have been relevant, most recently last spring, when his apparent desire to team forces with Butler in Miami tempered the Sixers’ willingness to trade away future value in order to bring him aboard for the 2021 postseason. Is there any doubt that his presence would have made a decisive difference in last year’s meltdown against the Hawks? Does that question even need to be asked?

Reality is, there’s a world in which the Sixers are heading into the second round this season with Butler and Lowry and whoever they could have traded Simmons for when Simmons’ value was a whole lot higher than it was when the Sixers exchanged him for James Harden. And even if you happen to be someone who rolls their eyes at unprovable hypotheticals like that, you can bet that Butler and probably Lowry will be entering a Sixers-Heat series having internalized that and a whole bunch of other weird stuff. Because that is what guys like Butler and Lowry do. Again: maniacs.

All of this is especially concerning if you still have flashbacks of Kyrie Irving dusting Harden in their one-game reunion at the Wells Fargo Center back in March. But let’s take mentality and postseason track record out of it. Physically, technically, a backcourt of Lowry and Butler is the worst thing that could happen to the Sixers at this juncture. Lowry and Butler are two of the strongest, most physical two-way guards in the league. Harden and Tyrese Maxey? Let’s just say you won’t see them on any nutritional supplement commercials in the near future.

No offense to either player, mind you. Both have been brilliant this postseason. But, again, these are the Raptors they’ve been playing against. And we saw how dicey things got in a sloppy, physical, and arbitrarily officiated Game 3. If that’s Game 1 in Miami, Lowry and Butler are on the bench untying their sneakers a few minutes into the fourth quarter.

Which brings us to Game 4, and the urgency that the Sixers will need to bring with them onto the Scotiabank Arena court. We saw in Games 1 and 2 what Doc Rivers and this group can do with a week to prepare for an opponent. In the semifinals, they’ll need an entirely new script. They’ll need to figure out a rotation that can contend with the remarkable depth that the Heat can roll out in waves. They’ll need to figure out how best to take full advantage of Embiid’s physical prowess against a talented but undersized and overmatched defender in Bam Adebayo. Most of all, though, they’ll need to figure out how to prepare Harden and Maxey for the trench warfare they are sure to face in a seven-game series against the likes of Butler and Lowry.

You might think that a Saturday sweep is a luxury. But the more you look at and think about a Heat-Sixers series, it should start to look like a necessity.

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