The 16-6 Philadelphia 76ers will square off against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat tonight at the Wells Fargo Center. The Heat own an identical 16-6 record and have already beaten the Sixers once this season, by a final score of 113-92, in easily the Sixers worst loss of the season.
The Sixers are fresh off their biggest win of the season – a 98-82 win over the Chicago Bulls – while the Heat are coming off a bad road loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in which LeBron dropped 24 first quarter points and 40 total. The Heat led the Bucks by 17 following LeBron's amazing first quarter, but only scored 54 points in the final three quarters combined.
As well as the Sixers are playing recently the Heat have had their number since forming "the big 3" of LeBron, Wade and Bosh. Since the beginning of last season the Heat are 8-1 overall against the Sixers, including the playoffs. The lone Sixers victory came in game four of the playoffs when Lou Williams hit a game-winning three pointer.
Both teams will be playing on a full day's rest, but unfortunately this has letdown game written all over it from a Sixers standpoint – coming off an emotional victory – and the Heat will be looking to avenge their loss to the inferior Bucks on Wednesday.
Despite the odds stacked against them this Sixers team has defied the odds all season and certainly surprised the everyone. Their recent win over the Bulls has proven they can compete with the cream of the crop in the Eastern Conference, especially on their home floor, where they enjoy a conference-best 12-2 record.
Luckily, the dynamic of "who have the Sixers beaten" is behind us ... for now, but this is another big test for the Sixers and their quest for national recognition. A win against the Heat, following wins over the Magic and Bulls, along with a damn-impressive 17-6 record with more than a third of the season would certainly put few more butts on the ever-growing bandwagon.
Looking back at the advanced box score from the last time these two teams met, the Heat absolutely murdered the Sixers in the crucial areas: points in the paint, rebounding and free throws. The Sixers were already without Spencer Hawes and playing in the second game of a back-to-back, on the road, but things really took a turn for the worse when rookie center, Nikola Vucevic – who was making his first career start – went down with a leg injury. The Sixers were only down six when Nik went down midway through the third quarter, but went on to lose by 21.
Vooch hasn't played since, but will be available tonight. Although the emergence of the newest Night Shift member, Lavoy Allen, may keep Vucevic pinned to the bench, stuck listening to The Boss tell him stories about dates with robbers to Mickey D's and some stuff.
Allen played a career-high at the time, nine minutes, against the Heat and has been improving ever since. His last game, against the Bulls, the ESPN-dubbed NBA's worst player scored a career-high 15 points along with 6 boards, 3 assists and 2 steals in 26 minutes of action.
The Heat were without a key part of their team last game as well, as Wade missed the game with an ankle injury. He'll play tonight and will likely be checked by Jrue Holiday, who played tremendous D on Derrick Rose last game. LeBron will be checked by the best perimeter defender in the NBA, Andre Iguodala, for most of the game. Wade and LeBron are going to "get theirs" regardless of who covers them, but no duo in the NBA can guard them as well as Jrue and Andre from an individual standpoint.
The keys to game will be preventing the Heat from beating the Sixers around the basket again. The Sixers have to rebound better, level out the free throw discrepancy best they can and limit the Heat's points in the paint. Both Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony – of all people – went off against the Sixers last time. Hopefully Brand, on full rest, along with the emerging Lavoy Allen, the healthy Nik Vucevic, the old Tony Battie, and if necessary, Sisqo Elson, can hold their own against the Heat in the paint and on the glass.
Vegas has declared the Heat two point favorites for this contest. As much as I'd like to convince myself the Sixers can pull this off, I just don't see it. I predicted they'd beat the Bulls but the Heat are a completely different animal and they should be hungry, coming off a loss. I'll be rooting hard for the home team, obviously, and I've been wrong before, so let's hope I'm wrong tonight.