Wayne Ellington may have quietly been pulling for the Philadelphia 76ers over the final stretch of the season.
His family sure was.
And when Ellington steps on the floor of the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night, the Heat’s sharpshooting guard’s homecoming tour will really kick into high gear.
“I knew it was a possibility, and all my family was like, ‘Oh, you might be coming to Philly, you might be coming to Philly for playoffs,' ” Ellington said. “I said, ‘It’s up in the air right now, but I sure do hope so.' ”
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Ellington, a nine-year veteran, will play in only the third playoff game of his career on Saturday night at 8 p.m. when the Miami Heat takes on the Sixers in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. It is his first playoff action since the 2013-14 season with the Dallas Mavericks.
For Ellington, who was born in the town Wynnewood roughly eight miles from the city of Philadelphia, it’s a major highlight in what’s been a career season.
“It makes it unbelievable, honestly,” Ellington said. “I've been saying it, but you can’t really script something like that. It’s crazy that it happened like this, but I think there's a reason that it happened like this.”
Ellington set a new Heat record for three-pointers made in a season with 227 this season and averaged a career-best 11.2 points per game. He is coming off a career-high 32-point performance that included eight made threes against the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday when the Heat clinched the No. 6 seed in the East and its first-round matchup with the Sixers.
Ellington shot 32 percent from three (8 for 25) and 33.3 percent (11 for 33) overall against Philadelphia in the Heat’s four regular season meetings, and is conscious of the challenge their tall backcourt presents.
“We'll they're the No. 2 defensive team in the league, so obviously they defend well. Their length is great. They've got some great principles and habits on that end, so we've got to take care of the ball, help each other, just play the way we're capable of playing. We'll be all right.”
Limited to 25 tickets to give out to family and friends who wanted to come see him play, Ellington said he let his mother decide who got the coveted seats.
“I let my mom work out the family,” Ellington said. “I selected my friends that I want to come. So, the closest people to me.”
Although he said he wouldn’t root for the Sixers growing up, Ellington grew up a huge fan of Philly great Allen Iverson.
“I grew up watching AI on Comcast every night or every other night,” Ellington said. “It was amazing what he did for the culture and Philly. He brought a lot of people together. I'm a big Allen Iverson fan, but I'm sure he'll be there rooting for the 76ers tonight. So he's on the other side."
Dwyane Wade compared Ellington to Hall of Fame former Heat guard Ray Allen for the way he continuously moves on the court, dealing with tight defense to find open shots.
“He's got an unbelievable touch,” Wade said. “Every shooter is different. I was looking at a photo. Luke Babbitt shoots left-handed, right hand pretty much off the ball. He's real smooth. He doesn't put his hand on the ball a lot. Once it gets to a point his hand is off. Wayne, his left hand is on top. It's unbelievable. As someone who worked with shooting coaches back in the day, if I don't get my thumb up and off I'm not going to be a great shooter. I watch him and his hand on top of the ball and I'm like ain't that some [expletive]. He’s just a great shooter man. He works at it.”
Ellington’s coach, Erik Spoelstra, and his Heat teammates were genuinely glad he will have the opportunity to play in the postseason in his hometown.
“He’s one of those types of individuals that you want his story to play out this way because he’s pure and is all about the right things,” Spoelstra said. “He has a great energy about him. If this was in somebody else’s hometown, he’d be the first one to enjoy someone else’s opportunity and success and that’s why everybody wants to breathe life into him and his game. It’s great, I know it probably means something to him but he’s also level-headed to know that there’s a task at hand and you can’t get distracted by the storyline. He’s mentally stable enough to grasp all of that.”