MIAMI — The 76ers obviously were pleased to get a much-needed victory.
Saturday’s win over the undermanned Chicago Bulls was all about getting back on track following a three-game skid. With two regular-season games remaining, the Sixers (50-30) clinched the Eastern Conference’s third seed in the upcoming playoff when the Boston Celtics lost, 116-108, at home Sunday night to the Orlando Magic.
Even before clinching, Philly’s focus was preparing this week for the postseason.
“A couple more games now, so it’s more of just trying to fix everything,” Ben Simmons said following Saturday’s the 116-96 win over the Bulls at the United Center. “Go against a team like Miami will be good for us, more competitive. So we can fix up some things.”
The Sixers will face the Heat at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at AmericanAirlines Arena. It will be their second to last regular-season game. The regular-season finale is at home 8 p.m. Wednesday against the rebuilding Bulls (22-58), who are without several regulars because of injuries.
Unlike Chicago, the Heat are looking to finish the season strong. And the matchup against the Sixers at will be one of the biggest regular-season games at Miami in some time. It will mark the final regular-season home game for future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade, who’ll retire at season’s end. The Heat will have a pregame ceremony to honor the 13-time All-Star. Miami (38-42) is also determined to snap a four-game losing streak.
So the Sixers expect to get the Heat’s optimum effort — especially considering the teams’ history.
“We played them in the first round last season,” Simmons said of the Eastern Conference series the Sixers won in five games. “They got experience. They know who we are as a team. So, it’ll be a good test.”
In more ways than one.
Among other concerns, Joel Embiid needs to get into shape. The All-Star appears to have gained weight after missing three games with tendinitis in his left knee. Embiid was visibly exhausted — bending over with his hands on his knees during several breaks in action — in Saturday’s win over Chicago and Thursday’s home loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, his first two games back from injury. He’ll need to work on his conditioning to avoid another injury and remain dominant in the playoffs.
Coach Brett Brown said Embiid’s fitness base was “probably a C-plus.”
“He needs to get in shape and keep pointing that needle toward being at having a premium fitness base," Brown said.
Brown knows that will take some time, so he is opting to play Embiid instead of rest him before the playoffs.
“To do that, to deliver him to that point, it’s going to require some NBA minutes, some court time,” he said. “Rest isn’t always the answer. It’s a slippery slope at times, but that’s how we see it.”
Brown has more to do to to figure out his postseason rotation, with James Ennis III missing at least the opening two first-round games with a bruised right quadriceps.
Rookie swingman Zhaire Smith is ahead of veteran Jonathon Simmons on the depth chart. Brown said a week ago that Smith wouldn’t play in the postseason, but Ennis’ injury could create a spot for him.
At this moment, Smith would get the nod over Simmons.
“I think you’d say that right now,” Brown said. "Some of it is not Jonathon’s fault. I have made a coaching decision. That’s what I’ve done. I think the next few games, you will see Jonathon, and we’ll give that a look, again.
“But we’re on sort of speed dial and cramming to see what goes on with these bench positions after the injury happened to James and getting those guys back.”
The coach said he has been impressed with Smith, noting that he moves his feet at an elite rate. Brown said he can beat opponents to a spot and is “extremely gifted” on defense. Smith was sidelined most of the season because of a broken foot and complications from an allergic reaction to food.
But while raw, he’s shown an ability to make three-pointers and provide solid defense.
“Defensively, I can see him coming in and not hurting you, even at age 19 and playing, what now, [four] NBA games?” Brown said. “I think he can be a solid defensive player almost immediately. The offensive side will come.”
The Sixers also hope Furkan Korkmaz will be available to play in the postseason after being sidelined since Feb. 12 with a torn meniscus in his right knee. The Sixers don’t know what they’ll get from him stamina-wise.