Ever since LeBron James made his infamous "Decision" to take his talents to South Beach two summers ago, the other 29 NBA teams have circled the calendar whenever Miami appears on the schedule. The 76ers have an extra dose of motivation following last year's Eastern Conference Playoffs, when they fell to the Heat in a spirited, five-game first-round series.
Contrary to popular opinion, Sixers vs. Heat is not a David vs. Goliath situation. Recent history has shown that Philadelphia is talented enough to hang with Miami for stretches.
The main reason that the 76ers haven't defeated the Heat yet this season is because they've failed to put together a solid 48 minutes of basketball. If they can find a way to do that on Tuesday night, Philadelphia just might be able to walk out of AmericanAirlines Arena with a win.
Miami beat Philadelphia 113-92 on January 21, but the 76ers only trailed by four late in the third quarter before a 23-8 run doomed their fate. The teams would meet nearly two weeks later at the Wells Fargo Center—once again, the 76ers were down by only four points heading into the final 12 minutes of regulation. The Heat doubled up the Sixers in the fourth quarter 32-16 to capture a 99-79 victory.
In their most recent meeting back on March 16, the 76ers out-rebounded the Heat 54-42 and cut a 27-point halftime deficit to—surprise—four points, before falling to the Heat 84-78.
In order to knock off the Heat, Philadelphia needs to end their recent practice of getting out to slow starts. In five of their last six games, the 76ers have been outscored in the first quarter by six points or more. Miami, meanwhile, is 28-5 this season when leading after the first 12 minutes.
Lou Williams (15.7 PPG) has been the Sixers' best player against Miami this year, and Philadelphia will need another strong effort from him if they want to pull out a win.
Strong efforts are also a requirement for Andre Iguodala (8.3 PPG versus the Heat this season) and Elton Brand (6.0 PPG), who have both been subpar against LeBron and Company recently. Iguodala's offensive struggles could be excused if he held James in check, but Miami's all-world small forward is averaging 25.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.0 assists against the 76ers this year.
Defense will be a key for Iguodala as well as for the rest of his teammates—the Sixers simply don't have the firepower to trade baskets with the Heat. When the Philadelphia beat Miami 86-82 in Game 4 of the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs last season, it took a total team effort on both ends of the court.
Despite allowing the "Big 3" to score a combined 65 points, the 76ers held the Heat to 38.5 percent shooting from the field and pressured Miami to a 5-for-23 performance from beyond the three-point arc. Offensively, four 76ers (Brand, Iguodala, Williams, Evan Turner) scored 15 points or more that afternoon.
That type of balanced output may not be necessary Tuesday night, but Philadelphia is well aware of the enormity of the task that faces them down in Miami.
"They're the cream of the crop in the NBA right now, as far as the Big 3," said 76ers forward Thaddeus Young prior to the teams' last meeting on March 16. "We definitely have to find some type of way to stop one or two of them and keep ourselves in the game and get a big victory."