This is now our third and final preview of potentially-competitive Eastern Conference first round series (we skipped Bulls-Pacers for obvious reasons). We've already predicted the Magic to beat the Hawks in six games and the Celtics to defeat the Knicks in six games. Now we're moving on to the series between the second-seeded Miami Heat and the seventh-seeded Philadelphia 76ers. While the Heat's Big 3 (see left) may be disappointed not to have the top seed in the East, the upstart 76ers are just happy to be in the postseason after finishing 27-55 last season. To decide who will win this matchup, we'll look at the four usual categories: head-to-head, recent play, season play, and playoff experience. Can the 76ers pull the upset? Hit the jump to find out.
Any playoff preview in any sport should begin by reviewing the head-to-head history between the two teams to see if it gives any clues as to how the postseason series will turn out. That's what we'll do here.
10/27: Miami @ Philadelphia--Heat win 97-87
11/26: Philadelphia @ Miami--Heat win 99-90
3/25: Philadelphia @ Miami--Heat win 111-99
The Heat and 76ers only played three times this season (unusual for intra-conference foes), and Miami has prevailed in all three meetings. The games were decided by 10, nine, and 12 points, respectively, so the Heat have maintained a rather uniform dominance over the seventh-seeded Sixers. Though Miami has added several rotation players--such as Mike Bibby and Erick Dampier--during the course of the regular season, they still dispatched the 76ers in March with as much ease as they did in October and November. This history paints a pretty simple picture of the upcoming series between Miami and Philadelphia, one in which the Sixers might keep the game close for awhile (like they did for 42 minutes in March) but ultimately succumb to the Big 3. Given the lopsided season series...
Head-to-head: large edge to Miami
|Wade and his new teammates are hot at the right time|
Recent performance: edge Miami
We should also look at the season as a whole to judge these teams because playing (up to) seven games against the same team is much more of a marathon than a sprint. Long-term averages tend to take hold, and flukes usually cannot decide an entire series. One interesting statistic for the Heat is their record in close games. Miami has an NBA-best +7.3 point differential on the season, meaning that their wins often come by large margins. The other side of that coin, though, is that their losses are small--and often avoidable. Close games have been a battle for the Heat all year long: they started the season 1-8 in games decided by five points of less. After winning four such games in a row, they then lost six consecutive close ones to end up 5-14 to date. The Heat have been panned in the media for losing close games, with some predicting it will spell their doom in the playoffs. The criticism is understandable given that, through March 6th, the Heat were 1-16 on game-winning or game-tying shots in the final seconds. Though close games may be Miami's biggest weakness entering the postseason, their first opponent, Philadelphia, is not exactly well-prepared to exploit that vulnerability. The Sixers are a mediocre-at-best 9-14 in games decided by five points or less, including a recent home loss to the Kings. In fact, Philadelphia's overall point differential is only +1.6 this season, meaning that, not only are they below average in close games, but they also do not blow many teams out. This means that the Sixers will have trouble winning most games against a quality opponent like the Heat. And the Heat really are a quality opponent, with the third-best offensive efficiency and fifth-best defensive efficiency (according to ESPN's John Hollinger) in the NBA. The 76ers by contrast, are middle-of-the road offensively (17th) and only solid defensively (10th); though they will not beat themselves with exceptionally poor play at any point, the Sixers are not able to dominate a game in the same way the Heat are. That efficiency disparity, coupled with the Heat's 16-game advantage in the standings and the Sixers' inability to exploit Miami's weak play in close games, means...
Season performance: large edge Miami
|Iguodala has been throwing down for the Sixers|
for seven years, but will chemistry be enough?
Playoff experience: Tie--Tie on chemistry, Tie on coaching
Primarily because the Heat are the #2 seed and the Sixers are just #7, this series will not be as close as the other two in the East that we profiled. The Heat have the advantage in the first three components of the preview, while the fourth comes out to a tie. The Sixers' familiarity with one another--as well as the Heat's inability to hit a last-second shot--should win them a game. The talent of the Big 3 will ultimately be too much, though, and...
Verdict: Miami over Philadelphia in 5 games