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    Masked man Joel Embiid bedevils Heat upon return to Sixers lineup

    Apr 20, 2018
    Joel Embiid was good for 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots in his return to the Sixers lineup for Game 3 against the Heat. AP
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    CHICAGO - Joel Embiid, the amusingly arrogant and hysterically funny Sixers giant, just made a name as perhaps the greatest character to ever wear a mask.

    The Lone Ranger only had Tonto. Embiid has Ben Simmons, a subliminally talented all-purpose big, plus a slew of cold-hearted shooters.

    Zorro handled the sword with the same brilliance that Eric Clapton tickles the guitar. But Embiid has weapons of mass destruction - seven feet of height, 250 pounds of muscle, agility and a shooting touch that extends beyond the 3-point arc.

    Unlike the disfigured masked man in the opera, Embiid is no phantom, openly declaring that he wants to be a "nightmare" for the Miami Heat.

    And that's exactly what he did on Thursday night (Friday, Manila time) as the Philadelphia 76ers iced the Heat, 128-108, in Game Three of their Eastern Conference quarterfinals at the American Airlines Arena in Miami.

    Playing for the first time since fracturing the orbital bone near his left eye last March 28, Embiid had 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots to help push Philadelphia to a 2-1 series lead.

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    Embiid called his mask "annoying," a device that had a protective inside lens which distracted his vision. But in the aftermath of his Game Three rampage, it's the Miami Heat who can't clearly see a path to the second round. In the history of the NBA payoffs. only 59 of 221 teams who lost Game Three when a series is tied at 1-1 eventually advanced. To the math-impaired, that's a high 73.3 percent mortality rate.

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    Miami's Game Two road win at the Wells Fargo Arena was mighty impressive. They held the Sixers to 7-of-36 shooting from 3-point range, limited Philly's assists to 22 and Dywane Wade delivered a turn-back-the-clock performance worth 28 points.

    But like natural gas, those keys to victory proved unsustainable.

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      THE SIXERS' gunners awoke from their slumber and hit 18 triples for 54 points. Their assists went up to 28, adding at least 12 more points to their production. And Wade was flat as a skinny model's chest, 2-for-10 from the field for eight points with four turnovers.

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      Meanwhile, all Sixers starters scored in double figures. Simmons was spectacular as usual - 19 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists. Dario Sario waltzed his way to 21, while Robert Covington and J.J. Redick added 11 and 10, respectively.

      Although the long arms of Justise Winslow was terrific with 19 points and 10 rebounds, Miami could do little to arrest Philly's fourth-quarter jailbreak, a crippling 32-14 run. Lauded for his pressing job on Simmons in Game Two, Winslow's best defensive effort in Game Three was a futile attempt to perhaps dismantle Embiid's mask by stomping on it and squeezing it with his angry hands.

      No dice. Even if Winslow had rendered the mask unusable, Embiid said he had 50 of them.

      "We certainly don't want this crawling into 130s. That's definitely in their wheelhouse. And we paid the price for that," Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra told the Miami Herald following the bleeding his team allowed. In winning Game Two, the Heat held Philly to "only" 103.

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      Here's a sliver of hope for Miami. Coach Spo is 26-13 in games following a playoffs loss. The 66.6 percent success rate is a reflection of his ability to make the necessary in-between adjustments.

      Maybe Spo can squeeze more out of Goran Dragic, who had 23 points and eight assists. Perhaps James Johnson can be given more freedom and touches on the low post where he can fish fouls from Embiid. Putting Kelly Olynyk in the starting lineup to add size and toughness might help, too.

      But the most disturbing question stands: how can Miami address the double migraine that is Simmons and Embiid?

      I don't know. All I know is that Hasan Whiteside is definitely not the answer.

      I love Miami. Been there in each of the four years when LeBron took the Heat to the NBA Finals. I love the sun, the sand and the skin that loiters the beaches in SoBe.

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      I'm pulling for the team, but this really is an unwinnable battle. But anything can happen, they say, when you play a round ball.

      Buena Suerte Miami.

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      Joel Embiid was good for 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots in his return to the Sixers lineup for Game 3 against the Heat. AP
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