The Miami Heat are on a nine-game winning streak, and they can make it 10 with a victory in the City of Brotherly Love. The defending champs will take on the struggling Philadelphia 76ers there on February 23, with the Sixers having lost three in a row.
It also happens to be the first time the teams play each other this season, which is ironic, since they are both in the same conference. Just the same, the clash of Philadelphia's scrappy youth against Miami's fast-paced offense should be tons of fun to watch.
Not only is Miami looking to extend its winning streak to 10 games, but the Sixers are seeking to get back on the winning track and make a second-half push for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Currently, Philadelphia is three-and-a-half games behind the Milwaukee Bucks and could really use a boost.
An upset victory over Miami would give the Sixers plenty of momentum, and make them a team to potentially watch down the stretch.
Time: Saturday, February 23rd, 7:30 p.m. EST
TV: Sun Sports, CSN
Records: Miami Heat (38-14) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (22-30)
Betting Line: Not available as of Friday, February 22, 9:20 a.m. EST
Injuries: Mike Miller (illness, day-to-day), LeBron James (leg, day-to-day), Andrew Bynum (knee, out), Jason Richardson (knee, out), Thaddeus Young (hamstring, out)
Key Storyline: Philly Seeks Upset Victory Against Defending Champions
The key to defeating Miami is simple: out-rebound them. The Heat are the worst rebounding team in the league, and their lack of a solid center often damns them against teams that have size in the middle.
Unfortunately, the Philadelphia 76ers are without that, thanks to Andrew Bynum missing all of the season thus far with a knee injury. This means that in order to pull off a win, the Sixers will need to do it on good old-fashioned heart.
This would mean perfect communication and a balanced attack on offense. Defensively, it means doing everything possible to slow down Miami's fast-paced attack, most importantly reigning MVP LeBron James.
That's not going to be easy at all for this young and feisty squad, but the key players that have stepped up in Bynum's absence will surely help keep the game close.
Key Matchup: Mario Chalmers vs. Jrue Holiday
Philadelphia needs to win simply by wanting it more, and that means everyone communicating well on offense. In order for that to become a reality, All-Star point man Jrue Holiday needs to continue what has been an excellent season thus far.
Large for a point guard at 6'4", 205 pounds, Holiday has broken out this year and has become one of the league's top scoring men at the point. He is averaging 19 points, 8.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 35 percent from three-point range.
His production over his last five games has been solid, at 16.2 points, 7.4 assists and 2.2 steals per contest, but Holiday's percentages have taken a bit of a hit over that stretch. In his last five, he has shot just 37 percent from the field and only 69 percent from the charity stripe.
Needless to say, he needs to have a stronger outing when Miami comes to town..
Of course, this means fighting past the feisty defense of Mario Chalmers, long known to make life on the court difficult for rival point guards.
The former Kansas Jayhawk is only averaging 7.8 points per game this year but has shot 40 percent from long range, while coming away with 1.6 steals as well.
His job in this game is simple: force Holiday to make mistakes. As great as the former UCLA Bruin has been this season, he still has a lot to learn about running the point effectively. The fact that he is averaging four turnovers a game implies that he could be in trouble against Chalmers.
If he can find a way to get past that tough defense and get his teammates involved, then the Sixers have a chance.
If not, Miami extending its streak to 10 games becomes all but a certainty.
X-Factor: Ray Allen
In order for Miami's fast-paced offense to be in full swing, the three-point shots needs to be falling. For Ray Allen, this means business as usual.
Since signing a multi-year deal with the Heat last summer, the 37-year-old shooter has posted 10.8 points per game as the team's sixth man and shot an astounding 41 percent from long range. However, the future Hall of Famer has recently been in something of a slump.
Allen has averaged 11 points per game over his last five games, but is shooting just 39 percent from the field and 32 percent from long range. Against Philly's feisty on-ball defense, he could be in for a long night.
Of course, Allen is a veteran and is no stranger to cold streaks. This just means that against the Sixers, he must continue to take his shots and hope that he snaps out of his funk. He is on the Heat to be a shooter, and nothing more.
If he can regain his shooting touch in this game, Miami's chances of winning greatly increases. If not, the game is definitely going to be closer than Heat fans would like.
Predicted Starting Lineups
PG: Mario Chalmers
SG: Dwyane Wade
SF: LeBron James
PF: Udonis Haslem
C: Chris Bosh
PG: Jrue Holiday
SG: Nick Young
SF: Evan Turner
PF: Lavoy Allen
C: Spencer Hawes
As much as both the Philadelphia 76ers and their fans would love to see the team pull off a victory against the defending champion Miami Heat, it's just not going to happen. Philadelphia does not have the strong interior presence required to go toe-to-toe with Chris Bosh, and their overall youth will be highly exposed in this game.
Pick your winner!
LeBron James will have another excellent night and come close to a triple-double, with Dwyane Wade putting up a fine scoring performance of his own. Bosh will take full advantage of the rare edge he has in the paint and have a double-double.
In spite of runs spurred by Holiday and Evan Turner, the Heat will permanently ice the game thanks to key threes by Ray Allen in the third quarter. They will ultimately swing the pendulum in the Heat's favor, turning what seemed like a close game in the beginning into a near-blowout.
Miami's winning streak will thus reach 10 games, while Philadephia will once again be left wondering just how to get out of its funk.