MIAMI – The last time the Heat and Sixers played, back on March 8th, I tweeted that I would love to see a first round playoff series between these two teams.
Miami had just beaten Philadelphia for the second time in less than two weeks at home, and it was another fun, aggressive and competitive battle.
Yet, at the time I figured it was unlikely I’d get my wish. Both teams seemed destined to be seeded between 5th and 8th in the Eastern Conference standings, which meant they couldn’t meet in the first round.
Shortly after that, the Sixers went on an incredible 16-game winning streak to storm all the way to the 3rd spot, and here we are.
It’s 6th seeded Miami versus 3rd seeded Philadelphia in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
While that was my dream scenario for an exciting series just a month ago, it seems many out there now believe it’s a nightmare matchup for Miami to face the hottest team in the NBA
I’m sorry. I just don’t buy it.
The Sixers are good. They’re very good. But I felt that way even before the long winning streak.
I also felt both teams were about as even as could get, and the streak hasn’t changed my opinion.
This is solely based on matchups, and Miami matches up well.
You don’t believe me?
The Heat and Sixers played four times this season. They split the four games with each team winning two on its home court.
The combined scores in those games was Miami- 409 and Philadelphia- 407.
Not close enough?
Two of the games were decided by one and two points and all of them were decided by single digits.
In my opinion, it’s the most competitive first round series in the east, without question.
The Sixers are the favorites, and with good reason. They’ve won those 16 games in a row, and while many of the wins were against terrible teams, it’s impossible to discount a streak that long.
Meanwhile, Miami was inconsistent down the stretch and continued to play down to many lesser opponents.
That happened so often during the season that it brought up the obvious question: was Miami just playing down to bad teams, or was it a product of the Heat being mediocre?
It’s a fair question. The Sixers don’t come with those concerns. As a young team, they had a lot of prove and play for, and they did just that. No one is questioning Philly’s talent.
But other factors clearly come into play in this matchup. Experience being the obvious one.
Much of Miami’s core understands that playoff basketball is a whole different animal.
Around the Heat, it’s always about improvement, focus and hard work to be ready for when it matters, and what matters to Miami is the playoffs.
Yes, Dwyane Wade isn’t “Flash” anymore, but he is a future Hall-of-Famer who has seen it all. His playoff resume is what many of the young Sixers players can only dream of. No moment is too big. There’s no situation he hasn’t seen before.
That matters in the playoffs because many of these games will come down to the final moments. Wade may not be the closer anymore, but he can be the stable force when things get tight.
Meanwhile, Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside, Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson were all part of a Heat team that just two years ago played two seven-game series. Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson were also part of other playoff teams for a total of 45 playoff games. Olynyk, in particular, had some big moments for the Celtics.
When you add the fact that Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra has coached over 100 playoff games, there’s zero doubt Miami has the edge in experience.
Like the Sixers winning streak, that can’t be discounted.
From a player matchup perspective it doesn’t get much more entertaining for a big-man battle than Whiteside versus Philly star Joel Embiid.
Embiid will miss game one with a facial injury, but when he gets on the court this will be the matchup to watch.
Dynamic rookie Ben Simmons will likely see a lot of James Johnson defensively to start.
Miami has been able to play strong defense on some of Philly’s 3-point shooters during the regular season, but that’s a danger zone for the Heat’s defense. Philly has a lot of weapons from long distance.
The Sixers are also the top rebounding team in the NBA, and if the Heat don’t attack the glass, this series could end quicker than I expect.
But I just don’t see that happening. I see a competitive series. Nothing I saw during the regular season from either team tells me otherwise.
I think this series goes seven games.
The difference will come down to one key defensive stop, one key rebound and one shot in the biggest of moments.
Are the Sixers ready for that moment?
I think Miami is.
Now it’s time to see who proves it.