The Miami Heat are going to close out this series tonight.
Sure, in theory in one game anything can happen (the NCAA bases a whole basketball tournament around that theory). Even Burnie (the Heat mascot you didn’t know had a name) will admit this Heat team is fully capable of playing a lazy, terrible game where they can lose to anyone.
But the truth of this series is that when the Heat are focused, when they defending, controlling the tempo and attacking, they are the better team and there is nothing the 76ers can do about it.
And the Heat know this — this is in essence Game 1 of the Celtics series. Miami vs. Boston starts Sunday if the Heat win Wednesday, which means three days of just practice, recuperation and preparation. If Philly wins Game 5, then Game 6 is Friday night and the Celtics series still starts Sunday. One-day turnaround — and the Heat’s home court advantage is virtually wiped. Out. Go to a Game 7 with Philly and Miami’s problems will be bigger than the short turnaround.
What the Heat need to do is get out to a fast start — the stat of the series is that the Sixers starting five has outscored the Heat starting five, 131-102. Not making that up. The Heat thrive when Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony get on the floor, but Mike Bibby and Zydrunas Ilgauskas are impressing nobody. They need to in Game 5, the Heat need to announce their presence with authority.
Look for the Heat to get a lot of Chris Bosh early then a lot of either Wade or LeBron to follow. Look for them to really crank up the defensive pressure and turn that into a couple fast break opportunities. Look for the Heat to attack the rim and get to the line like they did in the first couple games. Look for them to own the boards.
For Philly, they need to generate some offense early in the clock before the Heat defense gets set, something they have struggled to do much of the series. They will need the injured Andre Iguodala to break out. They will need monster games from Lou Williams and Jrue Holiday to exploit the Heat’s weakness at the point.
In theory all that could happen. In reality, the Heat are the better team and will show it tonight.
Sixers’ Iguodala’s knee pain has been worse than he’s let on
Andre Iguodala has struggled through the playoffs.
The most explosive wing player on Philadelphia has shot just 31.6 percent overall and 25 percent from three. He is averaging only 8.8 points per game. He has looked like a shell of the guy who won gold with Team USA in Turkey last summer. That guy looked at home with the best in the NBA. Granted in the playoffs he had to track guys like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade out on the wings, but the drop-off has been more than that.
The chondromalacia in Iguodala’s right knee, a chronic condition that dates back more than 5 years, flared in mid-March. That’s right about the time Phillies second baseman Chase Utley was shelved with the same condition, possibly for as long as 3 months.
Because the injury flared in March, during the playoff chase, there was not such rest for Iggy. Then in the playoffs he has had the job of being an offensive focal point while dealing with LeBron and Wade. Good luck with that on two good knees.
“It hurts, because you can’t really lift,” Iguodala said. “You go into a jump shot and you feel like it’s going to give at times. You feel a pinch. You don’t know if the pain is going to come back. You’re thinking about it every shot. Every plant. That’s probably the toughest.”
After tonight, despite his and the Sixers best efforts, Iguodala will have a summer to rest that knee (maybe a long summer depending on the lockout). Next season he will be back to his old self. So long as his knee holds up.
No, not Tuesday night, they will destroy the Sixers in that game.
We’re talking next weekend, when they will take on Boston in round two. Or the conference semi-finals. Or when the playoffs really get serious. Whatever you want to call it.
There are going to be close games. Hard fought games. And at the end when everything hinges on one key shot…
Boston may have a big advantage. Look at the numbers from ESPN’s Stats team, via TrueHoop, as they walk you through the end of Game 4 Sunday.
Then after the 76ers took a two point lead it was LeBron James’ turn. James was the only Heat player who had played well offensively in the fourth making four of his seven field goal attempts up to that point and scoring 12 of the teams 16 points.
But just like the regular season James continued to struggle in this situation. Including regular season games he is now just 1-for-8 on field goal attempts with 10 seconds or less remaining in games when the Heat were tied or down by three-points or less.
In fact the Heat as a team are now just 1-for-19 from the field in the final 10 seconds when tied or trailing by three or fewer including both regular season and postseason games. That is the worst field goal percentage of any team in the NBA this season.
Yes, that is a rather arbitrary statistic and we could dig up one that says the Heat do make big plays at the end of games by widening the parameters. Yes, this is an example of small sample size theater. Yes, what really matters is that the Heat blow teams out most of the time so the end of game shots are sort of moot.
But it’s something to watch, because in a close playoff game Sunday I saw the 76ers outplay the Heat late. And it makes you wonder. What happens with a physical and stingy Celtics defense on them, how will the Heat react in the pressure of the playoffs? We don’t know. But these numbers may be a clue, and we know the Celtics can execute at the end of games.
This may have been the pinnacle of the Philadelphia season.
This is a pretty good team overmatched in the first round, but on Sunday they were the team that executed better with the game on the line. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James were missing shots and defending poorly while Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams were simply just making plays. Like this three ball Williams drains over Wade for the win.
Best part of this three — the crowd reaction.
NBA Playoffs: 76ers playing for pride, Heat for days off
This series has played out exactly like the regular season for the Miami Heat.
They overwhelmed lesser teams where they had more talent, the real tests were against the other elite teams where they struggled at times.
The Heat have simply overwhelmed the Philadelphia 76ers on their way to a 3-0 series lead, but the real test is on the horizon with the Boston Celtics. First, however, is the matter of finishing off the 76ers series.
Doug Collins got as much out of this 76ers roster as he could, and they played with pride this season. They are going to try to win one at home, they are not going to just roll over for the Heat.
But the Heat have dominated this series. Completely. Chris Bosh, LeBron James then Dwyane Wade have each dominated a game. The 76ers had gone with a strategy of keeping the ball away from Wade and they still lost, in Game 3 Erik Spoelstra had Wade working off the ball to get free and the result was his big game.
What the Heat have really done is keep the 76ers out of their transition game. In the half court Philly is all Elton Brand — ho had 21 points in Game 3 after a ghost-like Game 2 — and some Jrue Holiday slashing, but the 76ers have to get some easy buckets in transition to have any chance. The Heat have just cut those off this series and controlled the tempo. Made it a half court game. And dominated.
Miami likely will dominate Game 4. The Heat are fully capable of taking a mental game off, turning the ball over and watching the 76ers run away to one win. Like we said, the 76ers will play with pride at home. The outcome of this game will not determine the outcome of the series.
But the Heat would like some days off (rumor is the Miami/Boston series would not start until next weekend) and if they put in another 48 minutes and overwhelm the Sixers there is not much Philly can do about it.