MIAMI, FL - MARCH 25: Forward Chris Bosh #1, Forward LeBron James #6 and Guard Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat against the Philadelphia Sixers at American Airlines Arena on March 25, 2011 in Miami, Florida. The Heat defeated the Sixers 111-99. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
It took the last few days of the NBA season to determine if the Sixers would play Boston or Miami. The debate on which would be a better match-up will soon be settled.
Three large shadows have descended over the Philadelphia skyline this week, but I suppose it is better than five. The 76ers take on the Miami Heat today in game one of their first round match-up. In my opinion considering the alternative, I’ll take the Heat.
The alternative would be the Boston Celtics, a team who is no stranger to playoff atmospheres. I have heard and read numerous reports about how well we match up with the Celtics. I completely agree. We do match up better with the Celtics. They are older, slower and slightly less exciting. Miami’s "Big Three" are nearly impossible to guard when they are firing on all cylinders. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are three of the top ten players in the NBA. But besides those three, the Heat are struggling.
Although the Celtics are aging drastically, they can still win games in many different ways. They also have their own "Big Three," who are complimented by several other extremely talented players. And I will say this…Experience matters.
Now let’s be honest with ourselves if we can…There is no ideal situation here. Let us all quickly resort back to the beginning of the season. Remember when this team was struggling and the word "Playoffs" was reserved for the Flyers and Phillies? The 76ers have come a long way since then. I’m not saying this is a moral victory, because I don’t believe in those. But unless the Sixers wrapped up the 5th seed, it's pretty much pick your poison. To be honest, if I had a choice on which team the Sixers would play, it would be the Heat.
Besides actual levels of talent, and playoff experience, teams which hold the most distinctive advantage come late spring, are the ones with the most supportive fan base. Fortunately the Heat are on a level of fandom comparable to Los Angeles. I took a look at ticket sales and merchandise revenue for the Heat. They cracked the top five in both categories. However, I am aware that for every loyal Miami Heat fan filling up American Airlines arena, there are two posers.
In terms of merchandise, although the Heat currently rank fourth in sales, I would say thirty percent are worn by that "guy" you see walking down the street with a LeBron jersey, a Yankees hat and a Dallas Cowboys lanyard on his key chain.
My point is this…The fan base in Miami is hollow. The real passionate sports fans can be found in Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, and New York…probably in that order.
Am I saying beating Miami will be easy? Of course not. It is an enormous test for the 76ers who, in the past few weeks, resemble the team which started 3-13 and not the team that was 36-23 through March. But injuries have taken their toll. Lou Williams has shown how important he is to the franchise during his absence, and Andre Iguodala’s absence has hindered the defensive game. With both players expected to play today, the Sixers will be back to full strength for the first time in April.
Outside of Miami, the Heat may be the most hated team in all of sports. All eyes will be on this first round match-up. The world will be watching and hoping, praying even, that Philadelphia can pull off an upset. If the Sixers can steal a game in Miami, panic may set it on the "Big Three". We all remember how King James played last year when adversity struck, right?