With the beginning of the 2011 playoffs just a day away, it's time to start thinking about the Heat's first opponent. Coming down to Miami for Game 1 on Saturday afternoon is the Philadelphia 76ers. I'm sure not many people expected the turnaround that came from Philly this season to happen so quickly, but first year coach Doug Collins took a Sixers team that won just 27 games a year ago and turned them into an exciting, energetic playoff team.
The last few years the fans of Philadelphia have been very blessed to be able to cheer on their Phillies, Flyers and Eagles in the playoffs, but I'm sure not many were expecting to add the 76ers to that list. Judging from what we saw out of the Sixers this season, you can likely add them to that list for the next few years. To get a little closer look at what the Heat will be facing in the 1st round of the playoffs, I asked Michael Levin from SB Nation's 76ers blog, Liberty Ballers, to answer a few questions about our pending playoff showdown. Here is what he had to say...
1. What matchup favors the Sixers the most?
It's gotta be Jrue Holiday and Mike Bibby. I'm worried that Wade will slide over to cover Jrue if he ever got hot, but for the time that Bibby covers him, I think Jrue will go to work. Because of Bibby's general defensive liabilities, either Jodie or Jrue should have a good chance to get the offense going early.
2. Of the Big 3, which one should give the Sixers the most trouble?
We had a poll over at Liberty Ballers and pretty much everyone agreed that Wade will be the toughest cover. His unique combination of speed and strength is tough for, well, the whole league. But since the Sixers' 2-guard is undersized with only average athleticism, he's especially difficult to cover. Jrue will have a chance on him and so will Jodie (who held Dwyane to a couple really bad quarters in one game) but the guy with the tools to cover him is Evan Turner. With Dre on LeBron, Evan has the best wing defensive skills left and, if Collins gives him a shot, could feasibly make trouble for Wade on the other end. But Dwyane's gonna get his regardless.
3. How much does the 'intimidation factor' play into this series, or does Philly go into this showing no fear?
It's less about the Heat being intimidating and more about the young guys who haven't played in a big stage. This is Jrue's first playoff appearance, same for Jodie and Evan. Mo and Thad have been here before but they're still young and wide-eyed at times. I don't think the star power of the Heat will have any effect on anybody but the refs and the media.
4. Considering the huge turnaround that the Sixers have made from last season, is this season already considered a success regardless of the outcome of this series?
That's the question. I'm a firm believer in winning a championship (how novel) and this team won't be winning one. So part of me would have rather them won 27 games again, played Turner and Speights, traded Lou and Iguodala and gotten a great draft pick to add to the young nucleus. But the other part had a really enjoyable time watching the team play and is thrilled to be back in the playoffs again. Considering the expectations coming in, a .500 season is a success. But when you look at the bigger picture, this team hasn't had a winning record since '04 and that's despite making the playoffs three out of the last four years. Welcome to the Eastern Conference, I suppose.
5. How do you think this series will pan out?
I'm really hoping to steal game one a la the Sixers against Orlando two years back and in the 2001 Finals against LA. Taking the first game would put so much pressure on Miami, it'd be hilarious to see the media fallout. I've penciled it in for the Heat in 5 games the past few weeks, really. But the fan in me is starting to believe they can win 2 games and push it to 6. Realistically, it's the Heat in 5 and another mediocre first round exit for a mediocre team. Fantastically, we push it to 7 games and win on a LeBron James traveling call that gives Jrue the last shot to send the Big Three into oblivion. Time to play some ball.
Thanks again to Mike for taking the time to answer my questions. This should be a very entertaining, but hopefully short playoff series. We'll see how it goes...Game 1 is tomorrow afternoon at 3:30 from the AAA. Let's Go Heat!!