Eastern Conference first-round preview: Heat vs. Sixers
The two have met only once since Nov. 26, when Miami rallied for a 99-90 victory and Philadelphia dropped a season-low 10 games under .500 at 3-13. But that game marked a turning point for the Sixers, especially with the emergence of guard Jodie Meeks as a key rotation player. Meeks scored 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, including 5-of-8 from three-point range, and coach Doug Collins made him a permanent starter less than week later. Since that November loss, the Sixers have gone 38-28 behind a strong defense, solid bench play and smaller lineups featuring Sixth Man Award candidates Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams.
Unfortunately, the Sixers (41-41) now face a Miami team designed to counter all of their strengths. Philadelphia's offense has floundered against elite defenses all season, and Miami is one of the league's best defensive teams. The Heat (58-24) also have the personnel to outplay any of the Sixers' small lineups.
The Heat went small extensively in their first and third regular-season matchups with Philadelphia, to solid results -- a plus-16 scoring margin in nearly 35 minutes. Parse further, and you find Miami was a whopping plus-30 in about 21 minutes when LeBron played power forward alongside both Chris Bosh and Wade. Small lineups without Bosh did poorly against the Sixers, but the trio figures to get more playing time in the postseason.
The Heat are just better, and this matchup is tough for Philadelphia. The Sixers could get one home game because Miami's supporting wing players are shaky and (in Mike Miller's case) banged up, but that might be it.