It’s time for the 2nd round of the NBA playoffs to start for the Philadelphia 76ers, and their situation is not exactly ideal. We found out this weekend that Joel Embiid is dealing with another orbital fracture and a concussion that will keep him out of games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Miami Heat. He may be able to return as early as game 3, but with the first 2 contests of this series on the road in South Beach, the Sixers now have a tall task to make up for their superstar’s absence. Of course, it takes 4 wins to lock up a series, but with the circumstances for the Sixers, going 0-2 in these next couple games could be a death sentence for Philly’s season.

If that sounds overly dramatic, it’s not. When you look at the potential path of the series, it becomes dangerously clear how important these first 2 games are. Let’s walk through the worst case scenario; Miami beats the Sixers in games 1 and 2. Now, the series shifts back to Philadelphia with a chance for Miami to go up 3-0 on the Sixers, a lead in a series that has never been come back from in NBA Playoff history. There is no guarantee that Joel Embiid will be available for game 3, and even if he is, he will be coming off a week of not playing and will be dealing with his 2nd major injury he’ll have to fight through. The last time he broke his orbital bone was in 2018, and while his numbers didn’t drop off, he was clearly uncomfortable wearing a protective mask during playoff series with the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics. There’s a real chance that Joel Embiid is not the player we saw this season for part of his first game back, and that could be all of the opportunity that Miami needs. That game 3 would essentially turn into an elimination game, and an injured star does not add total confidence even if he is available to play.

So, where does that leave us? Well, that means that the Sixers need to avoid that situation at all costs. The Sixers NEED to steal a game in Miami to give themselves a chance to win this series. I’ll go even farther than that considering the circumstances. The game that the Sixers need to take is Game 1, or they are in major trouble in this series. The reasoning behind that is the injury status of Miami Point Guard Kyle Lowry. Lowry is out for Game 1, and Jimmy Butler is still playing through a little bit of pain himself. It’s probably as vulnerable as the Heat will be throughout the entirety of this series, so it is something that has to be taken advantage of. Game 2 would be fine to win, but it seems that the easier option would be to gain momentum by taking the opener. The bottom line remains the same, though. Without stealing one of those two contests, the Sixers are putting themselves up against the wall, with a less than stellar chance of getting back up off the mat. There’s no time to waste if you’re Philadelphia. They need to excel from jump street, or they will be spending the rest of the offseason on the couch at home.