Nothing too shocking about what I'm about to say, but nonetheless makes sense to iron out tonight's Game 5 at AmericanAirlines Arena: there will be no problem getting mentally checked into a Game 6 at the Wells Fargo Center or a Game 7 back at AA. But tonight's Game 5? That's a hurdle. Perhaps as difficult, mentally, as Game 4. Perhaps more difficult because there will be no home crowd, there will still be two games in front of the 76ers if they manage to win, and the Miami Heat have officially been forced to face the reality of this series: that they better bring it tonight, because the Sixers have been much closer than pretty much everyone anticipated.
Right now, the Sixers are holding morning shootaround inside AA Arena; the Heat held shootaround just before the Sixers. Tonight's Game 5 tips off at 7 p.m. and, realistically, there's no way to even remotely predict how the Sixers might play tonight. That's been the enjoyable thing about this season's team. They constantly surprise, occasionally disappoint, but usually leave you feeling they did all they could to try to win. We expect the same tonight, although the climb will be the series' most difficult.
Here are a few things to expect:
1.) Evan Turner & Tony Battie getting some love off of the bench. We haven't seen Andres Nocioni since Game 1 of this series, and rightfully so. We've seen some of Marreese Speights, but nothing he's done has been winning basketball. Because of that, Sixers fans, Turner has earned the right to his 18-25 minutes a game tonight. And he's precisely who Sixers fans want to see. He's had a remarkable way of disappearing and reappearing all season, but the hope might be that Sunday's performance finally nudged him over the top. That he can let go of whatever lingering concerns he has and just score the ball and play all out on defense. The Sixers need him to have a Lou-like mentality when he's in the game because the Heat have figured out a way to neutralize Thaddeus Young. Without Young's 15 points a game, the Sixers bench needs that boost from somewhere. And that can be Turner. As for Battie, he's exactly what Doug Collins needs off the bench at the center spot, especially if Collins can rely on the scoring from Lou Williams, Turner, and -- perhaps a little bit tonight -- Young.
2.) Andre Iguodala. OK, well, now I'm stuck because the headline for this is "a few things to expect" and this bullet point isn't so much about what to expect, but about what's necessary. Iguodala has to be mentally present and engaged. 10-10-10 is what the Sixers need from him tonight. 10 points. 10 rebounds. 10 assists. If he has 7 points or fewer, the Sixers will lose.
3.) Look for Collins to manage the Heat's bursts of scoring. It's happened in every game this series. Miami puts together a blistering run to the tune of something like 22-2 or 20-4 or anything in that range. The Sixers were able to weather these runs on Sunday, but only by putting together an improbable 10-0 run to end the game that included back-to-back three pointers. The point? That kind of finish might happen every 50 games for the Sixers. And it's quite unlikely it'll happen again tonight. Because of that, we expect Collins to be meticulous about what lineup he has on the floor. You could sense that in Game 1 and Game 2, he was feeling out which players might give him something (Speights, Nocioni, Turner) and evaluating which guys he could count on. That luxury just doesn't exist anymore. There's no cushion of games left with which Collins can work. He'll manage his lineups, and the flow of the game, as closely as possible. We'll see a lineup with Hawes and Battie -- like we did for the first time during Game 4 -- because Collins knows he can trust Battie. Collins just can't afford to take a flyer tonight. It's going to take some creativity, but we'll argue that no coach is more in tune with what he needs from each lineup.
Tonight's game is the last of the series in which the Sixers will be climbing a mental hill as well as a physical one. If they win tonight, all of the pressure moves onto Miami's shoulders. You think the Sixers will have any problem fighting to the final seconds of a Game 6 at the Wells Fargo Center? No. There will be no motivation and "test of human nature" speeches necessary. That game *if necessary* will be just straight-up competitive fire.
Game 5 first, though. It's going to be interesting.
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