Amir Johnson, starting in place of Joel Embiid, focusing on defense heading into NBA playoffs

Amir Johnson will make his 25th NBA postseason start on Saturday in place of injured Joel Embiid in Game 1 of a first-round playoff series against the Miami Heat.

Though Embiid has been such a huge part of the Sixers success this season, Johnson is not feeling any unordinary pressure heading into Game 1.

“I’ve played in 42 playoff games before so I already know what to expect,” he said Friday following Sixers practice in Camden. “I’m going to just do me, do what I’ve been doing in the other playoff games. Just play hard as hell.”

The Sixers have plenty of offensive weapons, so it’s on the defensive side where Johnson will be the most important, and it’s where he’s putting his energy as the Sixers prepare for their first playoff appearance in six years. That means spending as much time as possible learning Miami’s play calls, and knowing where to be and when to be there.

“The little things that really matter in the playoffs, it can change a whole playoff series if you know coverages and you know where to be at,” Johnson said. “If you know guys’ tendencies, just like that you can take away a series.”

It will be Hassan Whiteside that has most of Johnson’s attention. The Heat center, who closed out the regular season averaging 14 points and 11.4 rebounds per game, is not a stranger to playoff basketball. Whiteside started in 10 postseason games for the Heat in 2016 before being sidelined with a knee injury.

Because Whiteside is the recipient of a large amount of lob passes, Johnson said it’s more about keeping him out of position and taking away his rolls to the basket than it is defending him once he has the ball.

“If he does have an open shot, you want to foul him and put him on the line to make him shoot free throws,” he said. “You’ve got to know his tendencies. He’s a great offensive rebounder, so you have to definitely box him out. Just little details like that.”

During training camp Johnson was one of the more trepidatious of the Sixers when it came to saying the playoffs were a goal. He preferred to take everything one game at a time, reminding his younger teammates that it’s difficult to win one game in the NBA, and even more difficult to win enough games to ensure a playoff spot.

After 82 games, 52 wins, and earning the third seed in the East, Johnson still maintains that the right approach is having an understanding of how tough of a league the NBA is and a greater understanding that the game is that much harder in the playoffs.

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“I tell guys it’s like a whole different season, you’ve just got to prepare yourself,” he said. “The postseason is like that last suicide you’ve got to run after your workout, you’ve just to push through it.”

Though Johnson tried to temper expectations early on in the season, he has been more than impressed with how the Sixers have performed and the way they’ve improved as the season progressed.

Johnson has watched the young Sixers’ core mature over the course of the year and has seen the dedication in preparing for the Heat over the last couple days. He believes the Sixers are ready for the next level and will elevate their game for the playoffs.

“This is what we play our game for, to win a championship,” he said. “We’re pretty close it, just got to keep on going… We’ve just got to be perfect. We won 16 in a row, now we’ve got to go win 16 more.”