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.