If you possess the gumption to steal a quick glance at the Eastern Conference standings, you'll see the Sixers are comfortably and solitarily in the 6th seed. Tilt your head a bit and the Miami Heat will glide into your periphery as the three seed. With about 11 games to play for everybody, and the Sixers magic number at 3, this is most likely your first round matchup.
And on this very un-Springy Spring Friday night, we're graced by the scheduling Gods with a preview of that matchup against the Bionic Man of basketball teams. Steve Austin (not this one) is a good equivalent for these El Heat because, while he is in some respect the perfect man, he's not someone with whom you'd like to hang out or, if you're into that sort of thing, knock knees.
On paper, the Heat are comprised of tremendously talented basketball players that combine youth and experience to form a basketball superpower unrivaled by all save for the Axis of Evil circa 1942. But while they have gone through stretches of tremendous play and otherworldly domination, there are more than a few holes in the underbelly of the beast.
After the jump, I'll go Liam Neeson on you and tell you how to beat this team, extricate your wife from prison, but not how to have a forgettable performance in Star Wars. You won't be learning that. Stop asking.
First off, they have no home court advantage. The fans in Miami are hardly the most loyal bunch, failing to come out in droves to support their Heat(s) each game. Despite two of the most marketable athletes in all of sports, they're not close to the top of the league in attendance and they get much more love when opposing fans come out to boo them on the road. So the fact that they're at home, a place where they've lost to Orlando, Portland, Oklahoma City, and Chicago in March alone, does not make much of a difference here.
They're ranked 5th in both offensive and defensive ratings according to B-R but play at the 20th fastest pace in the league. That makes some sense, considering how talented LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are in the half court, but since Chris Bosh is a big man that can run, and they lack a real defensive post player, it seems that they'd be better off concealing this weakness by getting out in the open court more and speeding up the game. Joel Anthony is a capable backup and an even better human being, but he's barely a factor on this team. Save for Erick Dampier, who is more than a few years past his prime, they're missing a crucial part of the rotation.
Mike Bibby is a really nice addition especially in the wake of Mario Chalmers' injury, and one that is probably getting overlooked. He's a big defensive liability and can't exactly run a team anymore, but he'll knock down a few shots and rock out with Mike Miller and James Jones on the perimeter to stretch the defense. With slashers like LBJ and Wade, it's best to just clear out and be an open target on the wing to knock down shots.
In order to beat them (and subsequently rescue Elizabeth Banks), the Sixers are going to need to pack it in and force the Heat to hit open shots. Without a perfectly healthy Andre Iguodala, the Sixers will need some help keeping everyone out of the paint. If Jrue Holiday and Jodie Meeks can leave their men to hedge into the lane, then get their hands in the passing lane, the slashers will be less prone to give up the ball and subsequently take more bad shots. Because of how talented they are, they'll make a good chunk of those bad shots, but you have a better chance to bother them if you're protecting the lane than if you're playing them straight up man-to-man and letting them break it down.
Elton Brand is going to be huge on the inside. If he can body up Bosh and get him into foul trouble, they'll have no one inside to contend with him, and he'll back it up to the midrange game and beat Anthony or Dampier off the dribble inside. Unless Tony Battie gets minutes and pisses everybody off.
Prediction: James Jones scored 48 points and the Sixers lose by 1 on a Jamaal Magloire putback. Enjoy!