The Sixers' chances of upsetting LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat were miniscule too begin with, but with the health Andre Iguodala and Louis Williams in question, the odds of a series victory for the Sixers are virtually zero. With that said, there's still plenty to be excited about for today's game and the remainder of the series.
Jrue Holiday's First Playoff Game
Although Jrue's first two NBA seasons have been inconsistent at best, the occasional flash of brilliance has given Sixers fans hope of a bright future. At one point or another every Sixers fan has asked themselves this question: "How good can Jrue Holiday be?" At 20 years old, it's a near-impossible question to answer, but the pedigree is there. He's already accomplished a feat only Magic Johnson, LeBron James, Isaiah Thomas, Chris Paul, and John Wall have done before – record 1,000 points, 500 assists and 120 steals in a single season before downing a legal drink (H/T Recliner GM).
Unlike 2008, when Andre Iguodala was entering his first playoff series as a "franchise player", Jrue has veterans like Iguodala, Brand, and Lou to rely on. Nonetheless; the coming week(s) will undoubtably provide Jrue with invaluable experience and the opportunity to perform on the biggest stage, with the whole world watching. Will he rise to the occasion, or crumble when the lights shine brightest and the games get tougher?
(For a little perspective Jrue's averaged an abysmal 9.3 points and 2.7 turnovers on 35% shooting in three games against the Heat this season. He's also been torched by Dwyane Wade, along with every other Sixers guard.)
Ending Evan Turner's Rookie Season on a High Note
It's no secret that Evan Turner has had a disappointing rookie season. The number two pick was recently pulled from the Sixers starting lineup because he was outperformed by Andres Nocioni. Besides losing to Eddy Curry in a foot race, being outperformed so badly by Andres Nocinoi that a coach is forced to pull you from the starting lineup – to start the second half no less – is the ultimate NBA insult (Kidding, NoceOne!).
With Andre and Lou presumably returning from their injuries, the rotation tightening, and Doug Collins leaning on his veterans more, it's unlikely Evan Turner has a meaningful playoff moment this year. But that doesn't mean I won't be rooting for it. There has to be a time where Collins gets desperate and turns to Turner in a big moment, right?
Andre Iguodala's Defense
Most of us realize how good Andre Iguodala is, and that he might be the best perimeter defender in the NBA. Brian from Depressed Fan has done a terrific job pimping Iguodala's defensive abilities all season, and praise from the likes of John Hollinger and Doug Collins will likely earn Iguodala his first career spot on the NBA's All-Defensive team. However; it's time the rest of the league takes notice, and what better way to showcase Iguodala's talents than matching them up with the famous "talents" of Mr. LeBron James?
In three games against Iguodala and the Sixers this season LeBron is averaging 22.7 points and 5 assists on 48% shooting (all below his season's average), and 5 turnovers. The question remains, will Iguodala be healthy enough to live up to his defensive prowess?
Update: Derek goes in-depth on Iguodala's defense on LeBron.
The Litmus Test
At certain points this season – when the Sixers were healthy and peaking – they had the look of a team who could compete with just about every other NBA team. They beat the Spurs when they were hot, they went into Chicago and ended the Bulls long home winning streak, they beat the Celtics, and had a fourth quarter lead against the Heat in Miami. Was it any of it a sign of legitimate contending future? Or was it a combination of regular seasonitis, teams underestimating the Sixers, the Sixers simply out-working teams, and a little luck? We all know the game changes drastically in the NBA Playoffs. The likelihood of an opponent not playing hard shirks exponentially, the Sixers aren't going to sneak up on anybody, and the easy baskets the Sixers have made a living with all season will be held to a minimum. Can guys like Jodie Meeks and Thaddeus Young – who have both had unbelievably fantastic seasons – produce at the same clip when teams are game-planning for them? Jodie lives off open threes and Thad lives off garbage baskets where he simply out-hustles opponents, and both will be more difficult to accomplish in the playoffs.
Although the Sixers pushed the Pistons to six games in 2008, I think we all knew how "far" the Sixers away from being legitimate contenders. Playoffs are where careers are made, reputations tainted, and flaws exposed. Any belief that Andre Iguodala could be a go-to scorer in this league was erased after an a gruesome offense showing in the 2008 playoffs. In six games he recorded a PER of 10.8, a TS% of .449, and a total of negative .025 win shares.
Regardless of wins or losses, there are questions to be answered. Will Jrue show the ability to step up against a stacked team on a big stage? Are Jodie Meeks and Thaddeus Young legitimate players, or "just good stats, mediocre team" guys? Can the Sixers compete with a serious NBA contender? Do the Sixers have the beginnings of a core they can win a championship with, or are they destined for mediocrity? The playoffs won't provide all the answers – and probably raise a few questions – but there's no greater place to discover what you got with your team, and individual players than the NBA Playoffs.
Minutes until game time...