MIAMI - During their hours of preparation for their first-round playoff series against the Miami Heat, Doug Collins and his coaching staff found something, not a weakness necessarily, but an potential defensive advantage.
Over the last month or so, Dwyane Wade has become the Heat's go-to player in the clutch, using his aggressiveness to attack the basket and score. Collins decided that his best defensive scenario would be to have Andre Iguodala on Wade, while putting guard Jrue Holiday on LeBron James to try to keep James on the perimeter and then have the Sixers big men rotate over in the event he got the ball and tried to drive to the rim.
In Game 1 on Saturday, that is exactly what happened. With just under 21/2 minutes to play and the Sixers down one point, Iguodala rotated to Wade, and Holiday switched to James. Wade scored five of the Heat's final seven points, and the Sixers missed several opportunities to stay in the game.
Despite the 97-89 loss, the Sixers walked away thinking they had found their best defensive matchup. They only need a little more offense to make this a series.
So if Wade, who missed practice Sunday with symptoms of a migraine, is able to play in Game 2 on Monday, and the game is tight at the end, look for Iguodala to try to make Wade take contested shots. That will mean that despite giving up four inches and about 70 pounds to James, Holiday will be tasked with keeping him on the perimeter.
"We felt that you need a quick guy in front of LeBron so that he's not handling it and attacking the rim," Elton Brand said Sunday after the Sixers had a two-hour practice at AmericanAirlines Arena. "In the post, you can double him more than outside, being that he's a bigger guy. With Jrue, he's a big on-the-ball defender. He can keep him out on the perimeter, and if LeBron goes to the post, we're there to help.
"As great a player as [James] is, he's not in the post getting the bulk of his points, so it's sort of unfamiliar to him. I'm sure he works on all aspects of his game, but that's not the strong suit of his game thus far."
Iguodala's strong suit is defense, thanks to his long wingspan and his quick feet. He routinely guards an opponent's best player. In Game 1, he was on James for the majority of the game, until Collins made the late-game switch in an attempt to contain Wade.
After the game, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra likened Iguodala to Scottie Pippen, and on Sunday Collins again said that he hoped Iguodala would get votes for the NBA's defensive player of the year award and, at the very least, make the league's all-defensive team.
"We're a team that last year was 22d in the league in field-goal-percentage defense, 30th defending the three," Collins said. "When you make a jump to ninth and sixth in those areas, somebody has to be one of the reasons, and Dre not only is an on-the-ball defender, but [there are] the mistakes he covers up for your team when he's off the ball.
"Dre has been fabulous. That's why he gets eight rebounds and he gets nine assists and you say, 'Boy, I'd like a little more.' I'd like some points, you know? Other guys are going to have to step up and make some shots, too."
That was the issue late in Game 1. No one could make a shot down the stretch, and the Sixers could not overcome their disadvantage at the free-throw line. Miami went to the line 39 times, the Sixers just 15.
Iguodala said that on defense he tries to use "my length to my advantage . . . to make it tough for guys." He said the move from guarding James to Wade was "just a change in flow.
"They're both fast, but it's two types of fast. D-Wade is quick and LeBron's strong and powerful and fast," Iguodala said. "So you just have to try to adjust and not get caught off guard."
Holiday said he was relying on his teammates, like Brand and Thaddeus Young, to offer defensive help on James. If anything, Holiday wanted to make James take a contested jump shot, and not drive past him.
"We know Dwyane Wade at the end of games with about two minutes left, we'll switch because he's going to the basket," Holiday said. "He's making plays. We're not saying LeBron can't, even though yesterday Dwyane Wade had the ball. Putting Dre on him as our best defender - longest, most athletic - I think really worked. Everybody else was on this side [of the court] because Dwyane Wade is over there by himself. Maybe one other person can help me with LeBron. So, I mean, that was just a great scout."
It did not work to perfection in Game 1, but the Sixers undoubtedly with go back to the strategy in Game 2 and beyond, as long as they can keep the game close down the stretch.
Contact columnist Ashley Fox at 215-854-5064 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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