Sometime this weekend—after the NBA announces when various first-round games will be played and televised—the seventh-seeded Philadelphia 76ers will travel to Miami to attempt to upset the second-seeded Heat.
Will the Miami Heat be heavily favored to cruise to the second round? Sure, and to use a popular phrase, the Sixers will be playing with house money.
Can the Sixers pull it off? To paraphrase Bob the Builder and President Obama (campaign version), "Yes, they can."
Am I projecting them to do so? Read on.
Will most NBA fans outside of Miami be pulling for the Sixers? Certainly, they will.
In sizing up the series, it seems to be the case of the Sixers (who will finish right at .500 or one game above, pending tonight’s game versus the Detroit Pistons) playing a Heat team that (57-24 with one game left) is playing well, even if it has not become the instant power that many pundits expected or feared them to become.
In many respects, the Heat are to be favored:
The Heat have won all three meetings, including:
An October 27, 97-87 win in Philly.
A 99-90 win at home on November 27.
And most recently, and perhaps most tellingly, the Heat came back from as many as 16 points down to win 111-99, in Miami.
All three of Miami’s version of the Big 3 shined brightly in the last game (March 25), with Dwayne Wade leading the way with 39 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, five blocks and three steals.
The three (or if you prefer, two-and-a-half) superstars combined to score an incredible 91 points, and led Miami on runs of 23-2 and 24-5 during the course of the game.
B) Star Power
Any team with James and Wade both in their primes suits up two of the three best all-around players in the game. While Bosh is not on that level, he is an all-star caliber power forward.
The Sixers have some good athletes, but don’t have any single player on the level of a James or Wade who can take a game over.
Philly counters with strong all-around play from swingman Andre Iguodala, an emerging point guard in Jrue Holiday, and very solid frontcourt play from Elton Brand—who is almost back to his pre-Sixers level of play.
After the March 25 loss, Sixers coach Doug Collins—per an AP recap—lamented, "They just had another gear. Those three guys got 91 points. That's tough to beat."
C) Last 10 Games
Two or three weeks ago, it appeared that these two teams might be heading for a first-round collision, but in the No. 3 vs. No. 6 matchup.
The Sixers, partly grounded by instant-offense guard Lou William’s strained right hamstring and Iguodala's battling knee tendinitis, have only won four of their last 10.
In the meantime, the Knicks unexpectedly got hot and locked up the No. 6 slot.
Miami is playing some of its best ball of the season. While their parts have not meshed completely, they have won eight of their last 10, including a huge win at home over the Boston Celtics this past Sunday.
It would be a slight overstatement to say that they are heading in opposite directions, but, well, they just might be—pending the return of Williams to the rotation, and a little rest for Iggy.
Having written the previous, what advantages do the Sixers have?
In this columnist’s estimation, the Sixers have three advantages—even if they don’t rise to the level of Miami’s “Big 3.”
This is not meant as a shot against Miami’s Epic Spoelstra, but rather a compliment to Doug Collins.
Collins put his name into Coach-of-the-Year territory (expect Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau to win it, and deservedly) by taking last year’s floundering 27-55 squad and leading them to at least a .500 mark.
After what could have been a disastrous 3-13 start, the energetic Collins had the Sixers playing some of the best ball in the NBA prior to the last 10 games. He does not have the superstars that Miami has, but also does not have the super-egos to mollify.
2) Balanced Scoring
Miami has only three players (you know who) who average double-digits in scoring; their fourth highest scorer is veteran midseason acquisition Mike Bibby, who chips in with 7.3 per night.
Now, you don’t need that much extra scoring when James, Wade, and Bosh account for 71 per night, but if even one of them has an off game, it can spell trouble for the Heat.
For what it’s worth, the Sixers have six players scoring in double-figures, led by Brand’s 15.1, with Jodie Meeks in sixth place at 10.5.
As part of that balanced attack, the Sixers have one of the best benches in the NBA, led by Lou Williams (13.7) and Thad Young (12.7).
3) The House Money Factor
When James and Bosh held their offseason multiple-championship-forecast celebration for the South Beach set, they painted themselves as the league’s villains. They are expected to win championships, whether it is realistic to do so in their first year or not.
Nobody (perhaps not even the perpetually upbeat Collins) expects the Sixers to win this series, and that should afford them the opportunity to play much more loosely.
They simply don’t have the harsh glare of the spotlight and the vitriol of so many fans and columnists hanging over their heads should they lose.
How will both teams respond to these intangibles?
Miami, as discussed, has very little margin for error, unless their supporting cast (including all those spot-up three-point shooters) really step up their game.
The Heat also are not that formidable inside, but it’s doubtful that the Sixers—a fairly athletic team in their own right—can exploit that hole.
I see Miami as a year (and the right role player or two) away from winning a championship, but I also see Philly as a team that is one year away from winning a playoff series.
Miami in 6, in a very entertaining series.
For more information on Matt Goldberg’s new books, as well as writing, speaking and interview requests, please e-mail: email@example.com or contact him via his Bleacher Report homepage.