Heat/Sixers Series Preview
But you wanted Heat vs Knicks, right?
by Cris Jones / @heirjones
It’s NBA Playoff time, folks! And the Philadelphia 76ers have the honors of being remembered as the Heat’s first Playoff opponent during the Wade, James and Bosh era. The NBA Playoffs are usually the most wonderful time of the year for the players involved, but the Sixers aren’t getting a gift with this first-round match-up.
For the Heat, this season has had more than its share of ups and downs. Including three winning streaks of seven-plus games, and multiple losing streaks of three games or more. But a strong push after the All-Star break, coupled with a Celtics stumble, landed the South Beach Superstars in the second spot. They now appear more cohesive than ever, especially after the 23-point drubbing of the Celtics this past Sunday. Though in a lesser role, LeBron James averaged 27-7-7 this season, and Chris Bosh usually brought 18 points and 8 rebounds with him on a nightly basis. With Dwyane Wade rounding the trio with 25 ppg, the Heat just look plain scary.
As for Philly, neither fans or many experts had the Sixers slated to make a Playoff appearance, especially after a 3-13 start to the ‘10-11 season. But somehow Doug Collins steadied the ship and improved upon the Sixers’ previous year’s win total by 14. The Sixers have defied today’s laws of the NBA by reaching the postseason with a leading scorer in Elton Brand, who only averages 15.0 ppg.
This team has taken on the city of Philadelphia’s underdog mentality, and they bring it to the hardwood on a nightly basis. The last week of the season notwithstanding, and the Sixers have played extremely well. Post-February wins over the Spurs, Celtics and Bulls highlighted the regular season. The team actually has six players who average double-figures, but Elton Brand is the only one who averages over 7 rebounds a contest.
The Sixers have backpedaled into this postseason, and the recent injury of bench scorer Lou Williams clearly had an effect on the team’s O. Without Williams at full-strength, the Sixers will struggle to generate offense on the wings. The Heat have bullied their way into the Playoffs, looking to be the opponent most likely to slay the new juggernaut in Chicago.
This series appears to be the perfect quiz for the Heat, before they are met with a tougher examination in Round 2. Without further ado, here’s my take on this series:
The Breakdown: Mike Bibby would probably struggle to stay in front of the majority of guys in the SLAM Dome, let alone Jrue Holiday. But Bibby’s lack of defense doesn’t change the fact that he can sink the open three, and sink it consistently. He’s been in some intense Playoff series—though the ones of note have taken place years ago. Still, he will not shy away from shooting an important three ball when called upon.
Since the Sixers don’t possess many players who can create shots for themselves, Holiday will have to, and Bibby poses the perfect opportunity to do so. The Sixers only have one mismatch in their favor and this is it. This series could be Holiday’s chance to formally introduce his game to a national audience (Dwight Howard’s hammer of dawn dunk on him doesn’t count). He should be able to abuse Bibby off the dribble, a la Russell Westbrook on Derek Fisher in last year’s Playoffs. Look for Dwyane Wade to cover Holiday if things get out of hand.
Advantage: 76ers, slightly. Holiday is the X-Factor in this series. He has to attack the hoop, relentlessly, to get himself going and find teammates for open looks.
The Breakdown: Wade is arguably the best 2-guard in the League. The acquisitions of LeBron James and Chris Bosh have barely affected his numbers, as they are nearly identical to those of last year. Wade will attack the basket as always, and wreak havoc on the defensive end in this series. The last time these two teams met, Wade had 5 blocks to go along with his 39 points and 11 rebounds.
Though Meeks gives his all on the defensive side, he’s not much of a defender. He’s strictly a shooter, and in order for him to shoot, someone has to create an opportunity for him. If his shot doesn’t fall enough to scare the Heat, the defense will sink in and make it tougher for Elton Brand to operate. If Bibby guards Meeks, he to make the most out of it.
Advantage: Heat, obviously.
The Breakdown: There’s not much to say about LeBron James that hasn’t been stated already. His on-court play is awesome, and unparalleled at the moment. The backlash that LeBron James received upon his departure from Cleveland fueled his fire to win a championship. And sadly for Philly, they are the first test–post Cleveland–in his quest to grab that ring. LeBron scored 32 the last time these two squared off, on only 17 attempts. That many points on so few attempts will ensure the Sixers’ demise.
Although Iguodala is one of the best wing defenders in the NBA, he doesn’t combine that stellar D with great offense. His jumper doesn’t frighten anyone, yet he tends to settle for the deep shot anyway. His scoring numbers per game dropped a bit this year (from 17. 1 to 14.1), but his distribution and rebounding numbers were good as ever. He’s become more of a point forward under Collins’ tutelage, rather than the typical slasher. This has been both good and bad, as Iggy’s assists per game average reached a career high of 6.3. But his free-throw attempts per game–4.5–are the lowest they have been since 2005-06. Although his offensive game has become less aggressive, Iguodala must force the action against James in hopes of getting him in foul trouble. But then again, Iguodala will have to improve on his season’s 69.3 percent free-throw shooting average.
Advantage: Heat. If James isn’t the “best” player in the League, he is undoubtedly the most talented. I cannot remember the last time he played poorly in an opening round, and I don’t expect him to slip up now.
The Breakdown: Bosh went for a quiet 20 and 10 the last time these two teams met. Brand only scored 8 points in 38 minutes. Bosh’s athleticism and versatility clearly pose a problem for the 32-year-old Brand. Though Brand went through a rejuvenation of sorts this season, he still plays below the rim, and the Heat have multiple guys who can send shots into the crowd. Both Bosh and Brand averaged 8.3 rebounds per contest this season, but the onus of rebounding will fall on Brand’s shoulders more in this series. The Sixers were recently out-rebounded by 25 against the Orlando Magic on April 11. No, Miami has no Dwight Howard, but Philadelphia’s rebounding struggles are evident. Bosh’s range will force Brand to come out to defend him, which will allow tons of put back opportunities for James and Wade.
Advantage: Heat. Even though Bosh isn’t the most tenacious rebounder, he’s still going to be successful on the glass against Philly. Elton Brand will give 110 percent in just his second Playoff appearance, but he’ll need a few 30 and 10 kind of games to extend the series.
The Breakdown: These two will have very little effect in this series. Hawes is often benched in favor of Thaddeus Young, moving Elton Brand to center. And Big Z will share time with Erick Dampier and Joel Anthony. Both Ilgauskas and Hawes can step out and drain the mid-range jumper fairly well for centers, but don’t expect either to get many field goal attempts. If either two can give their teams 10 or more points in a game, it will be a luxury. This will be Hawes first taste of the Playoffs, while Ilgauskas has been through the battles with Bron. A first round series won’t startle him.
Advantage: Heat. The trio of Ilgauskas, Dampier and Anthony will protect the paint. The Sixers are too thin inside.
To be honest, the Heat won’t need much production out of their bench to win this series. But, if for some reason Miami needs bench bodies, they’ve got them. If Udonis Haslem returns, his ability to defend and rebound will severely hurt the Sixers’ chances at second chance points. Haslem will take on the role of providing that toughness that Chris Bosh fails to bring at times. Think of Haslem as the Perkins to Bosh’s Kevin Garnett. Joel Anthony had a solid showing when the Heat played the Celtics on Sunday, and his energy will surely garner him some burn. Heat fans are still waiting for the young Mike Miller to walk through that door, but he still hasn’t found the key. The 2011 Three-Point Contest champ, James Jones, will see plenty of open three-point looks if the Sixers allow James and Wade to penetrate at will. Mario Chalmers is also a key reserve for the Heat, offering the ability to drive, which Bibby doesn’t.
Doug Collins has gotten tremendous production out of his bench this year, to the tune of about 40-plus points per game. Most of the buckets have come from Louis Williams (13.7 ppg) and Thaddeus Young (12.7 ppg). Both Williams and Young were dark horse candidates for 6th Man of The Year Award, but inconsistency plagued both players through stretches of the season. But when these two are on, the Sixers are tough to beat. Williams sustained a hamstring injury on April 3 that shelved him for the final five regular season contests, but he expects to be ready for Game 1. Young can usually blow by most power forwards in the League, but Chris Bosh is just athletic enough to stay in front of him. If Evan Turner and Andres Nocioni can provide any kind of offense off the bench, the Sixers will gladly accept it. Marreese Speights may see minutes as well. If the Sixers were playing Boston, Tony Battie may have gotten some playing time, but I don’t expect to see him much now.
Advantage: Sixers. The Heat’s bench may be more experienced, but they don’t score much. The Sixers bench has been solid all year, and I expect them to kick it up a notch.
SERIES PREDICTION: The Sixers are one of this year’s NBA feel-good stories, but frankly they just don’t have enough talent to compete with this Heat squad. For Philly’s sake, hopefully the Heat players sleep walk through a few games. But after the manner in which James’ postseason ended last spring, there is no way he and the Heat come out unprepared. Still, I am anxious to see how Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra handles this squad when things go south. Miami will play to their strengths and look to run whenever an opportunity arises. Look for Miami to eat Philly alive on the boards, as well. Pardon the cliche term, but the Sixers are going to have to play every possession in this series like it’s their last. Sixers steal game three at home, but ultimately, the Heat win in FIVE.