Last chance, best chance to beat Miami this season for the Sixers. With first place in the Eastern Conference clinched, and the best record overall almost assured, the Heat have been resting their stars down the stretch. LeBron James (hamstring) and Dwayne Wade (ankle) have each sat out the last three games to rest minor injuries that they would otherwise be playing through. Miami has also rotated some of its other key players, with Mario Chalmers sitting out three games before returning last night against Charlotte, and Ray Allen sitting out last night with an ankle injury.
Even without the two big stars for the Heat in the lineup during the past three games, Miami has played well. The Heat won a close game over the Spurs and easily defeated the Bobcats, while only losing to a red-hot Knicks team with Carmelo Anthony going unconscious from the outside on his way to 50 points. The team has maintained its strong defense, with a nearly identical defensive rating over the past three games to its season-long mark. However, the offense has understandably struggled without two of the best players in the game around, dropping from a league-best offense to a more middle-of-the-pack 103.9 offensive rating.
With a depleted roster taking the floor, the Heat’s remaining all-star has taken on more of a central role within the offense. Over the last three games, Chris Bosh has returned to his pre-Heat numbers, scoring 21.3 ppg and collecting 7.7 rebounds. In addition to the ex-Raptor, another unexpected player has also emerged lately. In the past 4 games playing as a starter, Mike Miller has stepped up, averaging 15.5 ppg on 55% shooting, 5.5 rpg, and 3.8 apg. As you might expect, Miller has done the bulk of his scoring behind the arc, averaging 4 threes per game over that stretch, including hitting a season-high 7 last night in Charlotte.
All of the Miami Heat stars are still listed as game-time decisions, but there is really no reason for them not to continue resting rather than face a lottery-bound Philadelphia squad. While a starting lineup featuring Mike Miller, Udonis Haslem, and Rashard Lewis may not seem imposing, these guys have played well and the Sixers cannot take things lately if they want to win two straight road games.
Keys to the Game:
- Defend the three point arc. The Heat’s offense has fallen off track a bit without James and Wade but they still have plenty of dangerous options from the perimeter. Battier (42.5%), Miller (39.9%), and Chalmers (41.0%) are all shooting well above average from three-point range. The Sixers absolutely can not afford any defensive lapses and provide these guys with open looks; Philadelphia defenders should have a much easier time without James and Wade around to penetrate and kick. If the Sixers can limit open three point opportunities, Miami will have almost nowhere to turn to put up points.
- Fight for second chances. Given the Heat’s lack of size down low, they predictably allow the sixth-highest percentage of opponent’s offensive rebounds. This problem has only been further exacerbated without LeBron James around to assist on the defensive glass. The Bobcats collected 23 offensive rebounds in last night’s game against the Heat. In the teams’ last meeting, Thad Young had an outstanding performance with 24 points and 15 rebounds, including 5 offensive boards. Though the Heat have played great defense without their stars, this is one area Young, Hawes, and the rest of the Sixers front line can exploit.
Assuming the stars continue to sit for Miami, Philadelphia has a great opportunity to avoid the season sweep by the Heat. The Sixers have come agonizingly close to the upset on a couple occasions earlier this year and should have plenty of motivation to earn a victory here. With the recent form they’ve shown over the last couple weeks, especially in Atlanta last night, the Sixers should win a close one over an undermanned Miami squad. Of course, if King James takes the court, all bets are off.