Eastern Conference first-round preview: Heat vs. Sixers

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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.


Dwyane Wade vs. Everyone. Andre Iguodala will spend a lot of time on LeBron James, and that will be a dogfight, but the Sixers will hang in only if they can at least contain Wade. Meeks is a quick, disciplined defender who can chase Ray Allen types, but he's vulnerable off the dribble and in the post. Williams and point guard Jrue Holiday try, but neither is a good matchup for Wade. Rookie Evan Turner has been in and out of Collins' rotation for weeks. Iguodala may get a shot on Wade here and there (see below), but the Sixers will be in trouble otherwise.


Heat: LeBron James. Small lineups have gone in and out favor with coach Erik Spoelstra, but they should be a key advantage for Miami here. James can check Young, and on the other end, Collins will have to decide if Young should stick with James or if Iguodala gets LeBron regardless. If it's the latter, Young has to guard a smaller player.

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.

Sixers: Spencer Hawes. If the small units don't work, the Sixers will have to get something from Hawes, who can grease their half-court offense with his shooting and passing -- when he's going well. The problem, of course, is Hawes' inconsistency on both ends; he had a strong run in late March but has cooled off since. The Sixers will need good minutes from him.


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. Heat in 5.