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.
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.
It has been his knee.
He admitted to the Philadelphia Daily News just how much it has been bothering him.
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.
The real test for the Miami Heat is coming.
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.