The playoff preview

LeBron James scored 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds against the Sixers on Friday night. (AP Photo)

The most interesting aspect of tonight's game is looking at the 111-99 as a playoff preview. If it isn't, if it's just the 76ers final game played against the Miami Heat, then it's pretty straightforward: the Sixers were the better team until the Heat decided they'd rather be. The Sixers played strong, good basketball in the first half and built a 16-point lead. Then the Heat seemed angry, took a timeout, and then went on a 23-2 run. The Sixers kept playing good, strong basketball in the second half and took an 8-point lead in the fourth quarter. The sold-out crowd inside AmericanAirlines Arena seemed restless. The Heat looked frustrated. So the Heat went on a 24-5 run and took the game.

Right now, the Sixers are 35-33 and are fairly entrenched in that 6th spot in the Eastern Conference. They are three games behind the Atlanta Hawks and two games ahead of the New York Knicks. The Heat are less locked into the third spot. They are 50-22 and only a 1/2 game behind the Boston Celtics for the second spot. Still, to make things interesting and because it's still a very likely matchup, let's look at tonight's game from the perspective of learning what a Sixers-Heat playoff series might be like.

The major concern would be Andre Iguodala's knee. He said he was fine in the locker room after the game, but he didn't really look fine during the game. He looked hindered. Doug Collins said Iguodala was getting treatment at 1:30 in the morning and then again before the team's shootaround. That kind of gives you an idea about the intensity of the work Iguodala's doing to be game ready. But, judging from tonight's game, he's still limited by the tendinitis. And if the Sixers can't cross his matchup with LeBron James off the long list of matchups they'd be forced to contend with, then that's a huge concern. We saw tonight what James can do against a hurting Iguodala. Couple that with Dwyane Wade being guarded by a mix of guys (Jodie Meeks, Andres Nocioni, Evan Turner, etc.), and then Chris Bosh hanging around to collect the extra points when Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes are forced to contest drives to the rim, well, you can see the problems this will create. It'll be made twice as concerning if Iguodala can't be his usual defending self against James. 

But what we also saw tonight was that the Sixers, for 48 minutes, aren't out of the Heat's league. It's not as if it's an anomaly that the Heat go dead for long stretches of games. In contrast, for the most part, the Sixers don't do that. It's frightening to think what might happen if the Heat actually do have a playoff gear that looks at all like what we saw in the fourth quarter, but the reality is probably that they'd remain the streaky team we see. And that does open the door for the Sixers, especially when the alternative is the Boston Celtics, who have size inside and a killer instinct that's been proven, or the Orlando Magic, who have Dwight Howard and over the course of a series that fact only would probably prove insurmountable.

Three things stand out as keys if the Sixers and Heat do play in the playoffs.

1.) The Sixers can't commit more than 10 turnovers. They committed 13 tonight and the Heat scored 23 points off of those turnovers. By comparison, the Heat turned the ball over 16 times and the Sixers scored 16 points off of those turnovers. If you turn the ball over, it's almost always 2 points. The Sixers had 7 turnovers in the second quarter, most coming during that 23-2 run. Normally you'd say if the Sixers could keep the turnovers to 12-14, they'd be fine. But not against the Heat. That means that point guard Jrue Holiday would have to completely eliminate his tendency for one or two bad turnovers a game. There would just be no room for them.

2.) Figure out the weakside rotation against Wade and James. In the fourth quarter of tonight's game, those two guys just pounded the ball at the rim. One time, Evan Turner was guarding Wade on the left wing and Wade just went by him and put the ball off the glass. Turner looked around, baffled at the rest of his teammates, wondering why there was absolutely zero rotation. The Heat are always going to get plenty of scoring off of penetration, especially getting rebounds because the defense is out of position and getting open three pointers because of the same reason, but the Heat can't get 8-10 points on two-dribble drives from the wing to the rim. Collins said after the game: "The one thing I didn’t think we did a good job on was I thought our weakside fell asleep two or three times on penetration. We let them drive all the way from the wing and get to the basket without anybody reacting to that. When you have two of the best players in the world with the ball on the wing, all eyes should be on those guys."

3.) Jodie Meeks can't be on an off streak. The Sixers can beat some teams without Meeks' shooting, but the Heat aren't one of them. Early in the season, Meeks was on fire against Miami and he was the only reason the Sixers got through the first half with a chance to compete in the second. Tonight, he was 2 for 4 from beyond the arc in the first half, but 1 for 3 in the second. For whatever reason -- maybe it's because these two teams are similarly built around tweener-type players and don't have legitimate, scoring centers -- Meeks, if he can be on, will be a key to keeping the Sixers afloat.

Sixers will practice tomorrow at PCOM before playing the Sacramento Kings at noon on Sunday, a game which will feature the return of center Samuel Dalembert.


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