Philadelphia 76ers (23-37; 6-21 Road) @ Miami Heat (45-14; 27-3 Home)
Time: 8:00 PM ET
Offensive Rating: Philadelphia – 98.5 (27th); Miami – 110.3 (2nd)
Defensive Rating: Philadelphia – 102.5 (12th); Miami – 101.3 (9th)
Vegas: Miami -13
Preview: The Heat shot terribly on Wednesday with their 16-game winning streak in jeopardy against the lowly Magic. They missed 10 straight field goals in the fourth quarter and had it not been for LeBron’s game-winner with three seconds left, they would have gone the final seven minutes without a bucket. But everything that they could control, they did. Loose balls, rebounds, shot selection, defense. And while their shots weren’t falling, they kept getting to the line, grabbing offensive rebounds, and making stops.
That the Heat needed a last-second LeBron layup to beat the league’s second worst team says more about their invincibility than their vulnerability. Great teams like Miami can afford to screw around for 47 minutes, then play at another level in crunch time and escape with victories. (According to a study by Matt Goldman and Justin Rao presented at the Sloan conference, there is actually evidence supporting this cliche. Great offenses get better in the clutch while subpar defenses get worse.)
The Sixers haven’t beat the Heat since Game 4 of the 2010-11 playoffs, back when LeBron was still a “choker” and Doug Collins was still a motivator. But in the off chance that the Sixers are alive in the final minutes, they’re screwed. LeBron will start posting up Evan Turner, Dwyane Wade will take over against Royal Ivey (or whoever the Sixers throw at him), Chris Bosh will pick on Spencer Hawes. The Heat have mismatches all over the floor and if they don’t start exploiting them in the first quarter, they will in the fourth.
Miami coming in: Won the last 16.
Three things to watch:
1. The new era. A new era is upon us. Sort of. Charles Jenkins, after DNPCDs in six of his first seven games, played 29 minutes against the Hawks on Wednesday. Arnett Moultrie was on the court for a career-high 26:45. It could have been Collins’ knee-jerk reaction to the miserable play but I suspect we will see a lot more of Jenkins and Moultrie in the final 22 games. Jenkins, by the way, just turned 24. Not the youngest second year player on the block.
2. Who guards Wade? Not Nick Young, who won’t make the trip. But will it be Royal Ivey? Charles Jenkins? Jrue Holiday? Dorell Wright? I’d like to see them go with Holiday, the most athletic and defensively able guard on the team. But they’ll stick him on Mario Chalmers and probably go with Royal Ivey on Wade. Unless DC is switching up the starting lineup, which I wouldn’t rule out.
3. LeBron. Just watch.