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Pinpointing the X-factors for Sixers-Heat 1st-round series

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Pinpointing the X-factors for Sixers-Heat 1st-round series

It’s time.

The Sixers make their return to the NBA playoffs at the Wells Fargo Center with Game 1 of their best-of-seven first-round series against the Miami Heat (8 p.m./NBC Sports Philadelphia).

All of the numbers have been calculated and the matchups broken down. So who will make the ultimate difference in the clash? Here are our X-factors.

Jessica Camerato: Ben Simmons
This is a huge series for Simmons, with or without Joel Embiid. Not only is it his postseason debut, it is a massive opportunity to take his game to another level in only his rookie season.

“Do everything I can for my teammates to be successful and make sure we come out with the first win,” Simmons said of his mindset.  

Simmons has stepped up in Embiid’s absence and established himself as a triple-double threat on any given night (including Feb. 14 against the Heat minus Embiid). The Sixers will rely on him for consistency across the board — scoring, rebounding, assists and steals while limiting turnovers.

The 6-foot-10 Simmons posed matchup problems throughout the regular season. The Heat have had ample time to game plan for his unique point guard role. Look for Simmons to use his calm composure, high basketball IQ and court vision to counter new challenges the Heat throw his way. This includes the need to knock down free throws should they implement the Hack-a-Ben strategy.

Matt Haughton: Brett Brown
There’s a huge difference between being the man and being in the chair next to the man.

Brown has tons of playoff experience as a Spurs assistant under the great Gregg Popovich. However, it’s a whole new world for the Sixers head coach in his first postseason at the helm of his own team. 

Every single matchup and adjustment (or lack thereof) will be under scrutiny. How Brown adapts will go a long way toward determining the Sixers’ level of success.

It won’t be easy, though. Not with Erik Spoelstra and his 70 postseason wins and two championships orchestrating things from the other bench.

Noah Levick: Marco Belinelli
Your eyes are obviously going to mainly be on Simmons and Embiid, as they should be. However, the Sixers’ role players are going to be key this series — playoff veterans Belinelli, Amir Johnson, Ersan Ilyasova and JJ Redick will all have important roles to play.

Belinelli is especially notable because of how hot he’s been recently. During the Sixers’ 16-game winning streak, he’s averaged 15.5 points on 52.6 percent shooting from the field and 41.5 percent from three-point range.

In his team debut against the Heat on Feb. 14, Belinelli scored a crucial 17 points in a dramatic win, as the Sixers erased a 24-point deficit. He’s capable of providing that same sort of spark against Miami in the playoffs.

Paul Hudrick: Markelle Fultz
Embiid and Simmons are generational talents and the main reasons the Sixers finished with 52 wins this season. Markelle Fultz, who was limited to 14 games during a difficult rookie season, could still play a huge part in how far the Sixers go.

Serving primarily as Simmons' backup since returning to the lineup on March 26, Fultz adds another dimension to the Sixers' bench. Fultz has a unique ability to get to the basket almost at will, creating shots for himself or for the team's suddenly impactful bench.

The triple-double Fultz recorded in Game 82 has to have his confidence sky high. He’s averaging 7.6 points, 4.6 assists and 3.4 rebounds in just 17.7 minutes a contest. Pretty efficient.

Acquiring Belinelli and Ilyasova was huge for the Sixers. Getting the No. 1 overall pick in the draft back in action and coming off your bench is even bigger and incredibly unique.

Ben Simmons puts on early show, Joel Embiid comes on late as Team LeBron beats Team Giannis in NBA All-Star Game

Ben Simmons puts on early show, Joel Embiid comes on late as Team LeBron beats Team Giannis in NBA All-Star Game

The Sixers were well represented by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons at the 2020 NBA All-Star Game in Chicago Sunday.

Ultimately, Team LeBron won a thrilling — well, at least the fourth quarter was — game over Team Giannis, 157-155, on an Anthony Davis free throw. Kawhi Leonard won the newly named Kobe Bryant All-Star Game MVP Award scoring a game-high 30 points.

Embiid, playing without the splint on his left hand for the first time since having surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left ring finger, got Team Giannis on the board with an early dunk.

Then Simmons put on a show.

Simmons had 10 points, three rebounds and three assists in the first half.

The NBA decided to break away from its traditional game format, making each quarter its own mini-game. That means each period had its own tip-off.

And would you look at who was squaring off to start the second.

(Simmons won the tip, by the way)

Not to be outdone, Embiid had a couple fancy dunks of his own as Team Giannis built a lead in the third.

Simmons also had this beauty of a put-back dunk for good measure.

He took a spill at the end but appeared no worse for wear for the rest of the game.

Another wrinkle in the new format this year is that the fourth quarter wasn’t timed, and the teams played to a “target score.” In honor of Kobe Bryant, the “target score” was 157 — 24 more points than what Team Giannis, who was in the lead, had total heading into the fourth quarter.

With Team Giannis nearing that point total, Embiid made his presence felt down the stretch, including dropping this nasty Dream Shake on LeBron James.

Both Embiid (22 points, 10 rebounds) and Simmons (17 points, six rebounds, five assists, two steals) showed why they were selected for the game.

They’ll return to the court for the Sixers Thursday against the Nets at the Wells Fargo Center.

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More on the Sixers

Sixers Talk podcast: Are the Sixers still a Finals contender?

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NBCSP/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: Are the Sixers still a Finals contender?

The Sixers are off to a solid start for any team, but the Sixers were built to be a championship contender. Danny Pommells and Anthony Gilbert discuss that and who will take up the open role in the starting lineup on this edition of Sixers Talk, presented by Wilmington University.

• Are the Sixers still a Finals contender? (2:00)

• Who will move into the starters lineup in place of Al Horford? (6:34)

• Did the Sixers miss on the trade deadline? (10:31)

• This team lacks veteran leadership (20:42)

• Story time with Anthony Gilbert (29:03)

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers