Miami has consistently played lackadaisically in its current three-game skid, all of which came against teams with losing records. The Heat will have to muster enough motivation to play another below-.500 team Friday evening, the Philadelphia 76ers. I chatted with Michael Levin of Liberty Ballers, SB Nation's Sixers blog about what the Heat's opponent in the first round of the 2011 playoffs plans to do. Check it out.
DQ: The Sixers surprisingly defeated Miami Oct. 30 and started the season 3-0. What has changed for the Sixers since then?
ML: I don't know that things have changed for the Sixers so much as the league has woken up. Those games were incredibly fun, especially with all the talk coming into the season about displacing the '72-'73 Sixers as WORST TEAM EVER TANKING IS BAD SO BAD, but largely and obviously unsustainable. Since then, they've gone 10-25 while playing some of the worst defense in the modern era. The fast pace and tremendous conditioning won them a few games early on and sprinkled in here and there, but talent wins out and the Sixers are not filled with more than a handful of talented players.
But I wouldn't trade those three games for anything. That MCW strip and fastbreak dunk to start his career was magic. Where we are now is just the predictable midseason slog.
DQ: Thaddeus Young recently won Player of the Week. How has he improved this season, and what role do you envision him carving out as the Sixers try to build a contender?
ML: He'll be traded within the month. We wrote last month that he requested a trade -- he denied our report, not surprisingly -- and followed it up with two weeks of the best basketball of his life. His value will never be higher than it is now. He's 25 and on a very fair contract, but can opt out after next season -- something he'd probably be smart to do with the way he's played. What's most impressive is the way he's added an increasingly comfortable-looking three-point shot into his arsenal after three years of Doug Collins telling him to stop. That's huge in boosting his value.
For Thad's sake, I hope he's traded to a team that will utilize his many talents. He's terrific and would look even better on a contender. For the Sixers, I'd love the extra pick or two and wouldn't say no to a few more losses in the tank bucket. Nobody more professional and likeable than Thad in the business.
DQ: Michael Carter-Williams was the breakout star of the Heat/Sixers game on Oct. 30, finishing with 22 points, 12 assists, 7 rebounds and 9 steals. How has he played since then, and do you see him as another player the Sixers will try to build around?
ML: MCW is definitely part of the core Sam Hinkie is establishing here. Nerlens Noel and our two lottery picks are the only other people/objects that can be said for. They're being careful with both humans with regards to their injuries -- Nerlens rehabbing his ACL and MCW previously dealing with a skin infection that hospitalized him -- and with good reason: this season doesn't matter.
Back to McDubs, he's been less efficient with his shooting, but that's not necessarily surprising or even bad. A good chunk of his teammates playing major minutes would not be employed by any other team in the league. He's got a ton of defensive potential and utilizes that already to create turnovers, but there's more there as a serious stopper if he decides to commit to it.
He's just really good, which rocks.
DQ: The SIxers are currently 12-25 and (perhaps wisely) appear to be positioning to get a good draft pick this year. Do you think a good player in the Draft — along with Evan Turner, Thad Young and MCW — can get Philadelphia back into the playoffs?
ML: Evan Turner will not be here next year. Thad, as I said, will likely not be either. If the Sixers make the playoffs next year with MCW, Noel, and two lotto picks? Okay. I don't care much about it though. This is a long play and one year of playoffs wouldn't make me more or less excited about the team's prospects.
The problem is the draft pick -- if the Sixers slip into the playoffs this year (HA) or next, their first-rounder goes to the Boston Celtics. If not, it becomes two second-rounders. For that reason, I'd probably prefer they didn't make the playoffs in 2014-15. I'm targeting the following year as the one that matters, especially on the free agent front, where GM Sam Hinkie will probably pair those four lottery picks in two years with a youngish free agent. It'll be cool.
DQ: What are your predictions for this game?
ML: Hopefully Miami wins and hopefully it's fun. That's the whole season for us, and it's great. Very relaxing. With the exception of just waiting for trades to happen, that is. The deadline is our championship.