CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers are heading into the first round of the playoffs on a historic winning streak and the momentum of a massive turnaround season. The players, though, are beginning from the ground floor.
“It’s unbelievable to win 16 games and the season was great with 52 game wins,” Marco Belinelli said Saturday before shootaround. “But at the same time, we don’t want to be the team that won 16 games in a row and then now, game one of the playoffs, lose and you lost all the confidence. We just need to be focused on the game, think about Miami.”
It has been two months since the Sixers last loss on March 13 against the Pacers. They hit a stride in spite of the absence of Joel Embiid, winning eight straight without him. Embiid will not play in Game 1 against the Heat (concussion, orbital bone fracture).
The Sixers did not play the Heat during that stretch. They split the regular season series 2-2 and lost their last two meetings in Miami on Feb. 27 and Mar. 8.
“This is a whole different season,” Robert Covington said of the last 16 games. “It’s a whole different mentality and we’ve got to be locked in on a different level.”
JJ Redick knows from firsthand experience that the end of the regular season doesn’t dictate playoff success. He pointed to two seasons with very different runs in Orlando. In 2009, the shorthanded Magic lost four of six heading into the playoffs, started the first round down 2-1 to the Sixers and went on to reach the NBA Finals. The following season the Magic won nine of their last 10, swept the first two rounds, but were eliminated in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals.
“It works two ways,” Redick said of momentum. “It’s all about the matchup and really for us it’s about Miami. They have our undivided attention.”
The one constant in this series for the Sixers is home court advantage. They have lost only once at the Wells Fargo Center in all of 2018. The first two games of the series will be played in Philadelphia on Saturday and Monday.
“We have to remember how we played those games and why we won them,” Ersan Ilyasova said. “The way we played is just the way to play in the playoffs.”
Game 1 injury notes
In addition to Embiid, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (right knee patellar tendinitis) is out. Dario Saric still is dealing with discomfort from cellulitis in his right elbow. He said he experiences some pain at random points in the day but feels better after warming up.
“I feel something there, but it’s playoffs,” Saric said. “You cannot think too much. You need to just go through that and try to play.”
Amir Johnson is slated to get the start in place of Embiid.