NBA Playoff Preview: Miami vs. Philadelphia

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SEASON RECORDS

Heat:  58-24 (No. 2 seed)
76ers: 41-41  (No. 7 seed)

SEASON SERIES

Miami swept the season series, winning all three contests by an average of just over 10 points per game. If there’s a bright side for the Sixers, it’s that two of the three meetings came very early in the season, before the team really started to jell and show improvement under Doug Collins.

KEY INJURIES

Heat: Udonis Haslem is unlikely to be ready for the start of the playoffs, as he’s still recovering from a torn ligament in his left foot that he suffered back in November. He’s been seen on the court getting some practice work in, but Miami isn’t in any hurry to rush him back.

Mike Miller has been playing through a sprained thumb, which he aggravated in Monday’s win over the Hawks. He sprained his ankle in the second half of that one as well, but should be ready for Game 1.

76ers: Lou Williams missed the team’s last five regular season games with a hamstring injury, but the good news is that he did go through practice on Tuesday and should be ready to go on Saturday.

Andre Iguodala was held out of the team’s last two regular season games to give his right knee tendinitis a chance to calm down, but he is also expected back for Game 1.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKING (points per possession)
Heat: Offense: 109.3 (3rd), Defense: 100.8 (5th)

76ers: Offense: 104.1 (17th), Defense: 102.5 (10th)

THREE KEY HEAT:

LeBron James: The two-time defending league MVP won’t get a third this year, but that’s more due to a lack of interest from the voters than his own production. James has been as good as ever this season, learning to work alongside another legitimate superstar while still producing at an average of almost 27 points per game, along with over seven rebounds and seven assists.

Dwyane Wade: In a manner similar to James, Wade has done just fine adjusting to the presence of another ball-dominant superstar. While his assists are down almost two per game thanks to James initiating his fair share of possessions, Wade has increased his rebounding by almost that same margin. And, he’s been able to increase his activity on the defensive end of the floor, which has led to Miami emerging as the league’s most dangerous team in transition when Wade and James are leading the break.

Mike Bibby: Sure, Chris Bosh is the third name that automatically comes to mind when discussing this Miami Heat team. But the Sixers rely heavily on the guard spot to provide scoring and to initiate things for others, and are deep at the position with Jrue Holiday and Williams. Bibby’s more-than-questionable defense will be put to the test in Round 1 of the playoffs.

THREE KEY SIXERS:

Andre Iguodala: The Sixers need Iguodala to gain some semblance of the star performer we saw glimpses of last season. Doug Collins has done an excellent job molding the Sixers into a cohesive unit, but they need a star-level performance out of someone to have a chance against this loaded Heat team, and Iguodala can be that guy.

Elton Brand: The team’s leading scorer and rebounder, Brand must exert himself and impact the game down low for the Sixers. Miami plays excellent team defense, but if Brand can score regularly when he gets his chances, that will help immensely in opening things up for the talented Philadelphia guards.

Lou Williams: The health of Williams can’t be overstated in terms of the Sixers’ chances in this series. He provides consistent and steady scoring off the bench at the guard spot in relatively limited minutes, and is vital to the offensive success of a team that at times has trouble putting up points.

OUTLOOK

The Heat have been the season’s biggest ongoing storyline, and that isn’t likely to change once the postseason begins. The Big Three of Wade, James, and Bosh accounted for a combined average of 70.9 points per game, and they’re going to need to continue that level of production — as well as get their teammates to step it up a notch — if their success is to continue in the playoffs.

That’s the challenge for the Sixers, and it appears to be a monumental one. Philadelphia can defend, and will likely be able to keep Miami in check on the offensive end of the floor. But scoring will be an issue for them, and they’ll need huge, sustained performances from Elton Brand, Spencer Hawes, and Thaddeus Young inside to get easy baskets down low when the Heat extend their defense on the perimeter. They’ll also need Williams and Iguodala to play through their recent injuries to 100 percent of their capabilities if the Sixers are to steal a game or two in this series, but we won’t know if that’s possible until we get a glimpse of the team in the first game of the series.

PREDICTION

Unfortunately for the Sixers, this is close to a perfect matchup for the untested Heat as they open the postseason. Not a ton of size inside, and perimeter players that are more than solid, but who are no match for the likes of James and Wade.

The bottom line is that Philadelphia finished the season as just a .500 team in the watered-down Eastern Conference, and it will show in this series. Doug Collins may be able to squeeze one win out of his team, but probably nothing more than that. It might be a sweep, but Miami may slip up in one of the games, simply due to a letdown of intensity once the team realizes how much of a foregone conclusion this series actually is.

Heat in five.

Dikembe Mutombo says he is putting together a group to buy the Rockets

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It appears as though Houston billionaire Dan Friedkin will have some competition if he decides to bid for the Rockets. Namely, former NBA big man Dikembe Mutombo.

Mutombo played in the NBA from 1991-2009, ending his career with five seasons in Houston. The franchise apparently made an impact on the Hall of Fame center, as he is apparently looking to buy the franchise per an interview with USA Today.

Speaking with Adi Joseph over at FTW, Mutombo would not give out names of his partners but said that he will be able to make a bid in the coming weeks.

Via FTW:

“I’m putting together a group to buy the Houston Rockets, and we’re getting close,” he said. “Getting close in the next couple weeks, maybe I’ll have a chance. Lot of people, lot of people and good people with a lot of money.”

With Leslie Alexander’s decision to sell the team, it certainly would be interesting to get another NBA player as part of team ownership in this league.

Watch the 10 best 360 plays from last season (video)

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The NBA’s top-10 highlight packages have been pretty enjoyable. This one is oddly specific – but still dizzyingly fun.

Kevin Durant on White House visit with Donald Trump: “Nah, I won’t do that”

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It’s not much of a surprise, but at least we have confirmation. If the Golden State Warriors are invited to the White House for a championship visit with Donald Trump, at least one star won’t be going: Kevin Durant.

Speaking in an ESPN article published on Thursday, the 2017 NBA Finals MVP said he didn’t respect who currently held the office of president.

Durant was interviewed as part of his Kevin Durant Day in his local Washington D.C. area suburb of Seat Pleasant, Maryland.

He is not the first NBA player to come forward and speak out about Trump in the aftermath of Charlottesville. LeBron James, Jabari Parker, and other NBA players have denounced the tone of Trump’s politics and positions in the public sphere.

The Warriors star had a lot to say on the subject, but I think this was most poignant.

Via ESPN:

“Nah, I won’t do that,” said Durant, the 2017 NBA Finals MVP. “I don’t respect who’s in office right now.”

“I don’t agree with what he agrees with, so my voice is going to be heard by not doing that,” said Durant, who said it wasn’t an organizational decision. “That’s just me personally, but if I know my guys well enough, they’ll all agree with me.”

“He’s definitely driving it,” Durant said. “I feel ever since he’s got into office, or since he ran for the presidency, our country has been so divided and it’s not a coincidence. When [Barack] Obama was in office, things were looking up. We had so much hope in our communities where I come from because we had a black president, and that was a first.

“So to see that and to be where we are now, it just felt like we took a turn for the worse, man. It all comes from who is in the administration. It comes from the top. Leadership trickles down to the rest of us. So, you know, if we have someone in office that doesn’t care about all people, then we won’t go anywhere as a country. In my opinion, until we get him out of here, we won’t see any progress.”

Durant also mentioned the need for more sports stars to come out and voice their opinions as a matter of leadership and as role models in the community.

That is definitely a huge part of the impact that sports stars can have. We all know how important NBA players are to pop culture and the culture of basketball itself. Couple that with how much influence they have as individual brands, as major players in the corporate sphere, and hopefully it will help them make a positive impact.

It’s great that NBA players are coming out and standing up against this kind of violence, and good on the NBA for making sure their voices as individuals aren’t silenced.

Chris Bosh to ‘host’ players-union awards revealed via tweets

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The NBA didn’t reveal its major regular-season awards until after the playoffs and draft – until most fans had turned the page toward the offseason. But at least the league got a revenue-drawing nationally televised award show out of the delay.

What is the players union doing, and how does Chris Bosh come into play?

National Basketball Players Association release:

CHRIS BOSH TO HOST NBPA “PLAYERS VOICE AWARDS”

11-Time All-Star to Reveal Awards Via Social Media

The National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) announced today that 2017 Players Voice Awards will be revealed exclusively via social media tomorrow beginning at 11:00 a.m. ET.

The Players Voice Awards are voted on solely by NBA players

The awards and videos will be revealed via @theNBPA on Twitter, and NBPA.com will curate all of the content throughout the day.

Voting took place at the end of the regular season and did not consider postseason performances.

The full list of Players Voice Awards includes:

  • Best Rookie
  • Comeback Player of the Year
  • Best Off the Bench
  • Best Defender
  • Hardest to Guard
  • Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team
  • Best Dressed
  • Home Court Advantage
  • Coach You’d Most Like to Play For
  • Clutch Performer
  • Best Social Media Follow
  • Most Influential Veteran
  • Global Impact
  • Most Valuable Player
  • Best Teammate (one per team)

I’m still not sure how Bosh is hosting tweets or what took so long for the union to get to this. The players-union awards, which debuted two years ago, haven’t gained much steam. I don’t think this will help.

On the other hand, not much is happening this time of year. Diehard basketball fans are thirsting for activity, and this provides some.

But they’d care at any time. I don’t think this moves the needle at all for casual fans.

As a hardcore basketball follower, though, I am curious who wins – and how Bosh fits into all of this.