Even with their second-round playoff opponent determined, the build up to the Eastern conference semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers apparently will be a gradual process for the Miami Heat ahead of Monday’s 7:30 p.m. series opener at FTX Arena.

Among those held out of Friday’s practice were Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, P.J. Tucker and Caleb Martin.

Herro was away from the team due to a non-Covid illness that the team listed as a respiratory issue.

Lowry and Butler continued to receive treatment for the ailments that had them out for the close of the 4-1 first-round victory over the Atlanta Hawks. Lowry missed the final two games of that series with a hamstring strain, with Butler missing Tuesday night’s series finale with knee soreness.

Tucker (calf strain) and Martin (ankle sprain) had been listed on the Heat injury report throughout the Hawks series, without missing time.

“Each day we’ll get a better idea,” coach Erik Spoelstra said, “but everybody’s made progress. Everybody was doing something, whether it was in the practice or on the side. And I took that as an encouraging sign.”

Spoelstra declined to forecast availability for Monday’s series opener.

“I don’t want to jump the gun on anything,” he said. “I like the progress that everybody’s made. We’ll see if we make more progress [Saturday] and it’ll just be a daily update.”

Gabe Vincent had filled in as the starting point guard in Lowry’s absence, with Victor Oladipo starting Tuesday night in place of Butler.

Spoelstra gave the team Wednesday and Thursday off before reconvening for what is expected to be three consecutive days of practice. The 76ers closed out the Toronto Raptors on Thursday night in Game 6 of that best-of-seven series to lock in the opponent for this round.

“It’s good, two days for everybody to kind of decompress, get out of that [Hawks] series, slowly transition,” Spoelstra said. “And everybody was watching the game [Thursday] night. Now we start to gear up and get our energy systems in order for this next series, which we can expect to be a great battle.”

The teams split the four-game season series 2-2, although James Harden has yet to face the Heat in a 76ers uniform since his Feb. 10 NBA trading deadline acquisition from the Brooklyn Nets.

“It’s totally different than the team we played this year,” Spoelstra said. “He definitely changes the dynamic. You’re talking about an MVP player, a guy who can manipulate the game. He can hurt you whether he’s scoring or whether he’s assisting or whether he’s just manipulating your defense.

“They have two guys [including center Joel Embiid] who really know how to draw fouls and do it exceptionally well. So you have to do things with great discipline, great focus. But you don’t want to back off on your aggressiveness.”

The Embiid factor

Both Spoelstra and Heat center Bam Adebayo said there are no easy answers against Embiid, who led the NBA in the regular season with his 30.6 scoring average, and then averaged 26.2 points in the first round against the Raptors.

“You’re going to have to double him, pretty simple,” Adebayo said, “getting the ball out of his hands, making it difficult, just giving him difficult shots and not letting him get in a rhythm.”

Said Spoelstra, “One, I don’t have that answer right now. Two, I don’t know if we’ll get that answer. It’s not like you’re going to be able to stop a guy who’s an MVP player. The point is we have to be consistent. We have to make it tough on their main guys and do that consistently, and hopefully just wear on the team and get them out of their comfort zones.”

Garrett visits

Guard Marcus Garrett, who began the season on a two-way contract before being waived at midseason ahead of wrist surgery, was on the practice court Friday, as he continues his rehab under the Heat’s supervision.

Garrett, who went undrafted last year out of Kansas and then excelled in summer league, particularly with his defense, is a free agent, not on the Heat roster. He worked on the side with assistant coach Octavio De La Grana on ballhandling drills.


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