The Philadelphia 76ers will have almost the entire non-Miami portion of the country on their side this afternoon as they open their 2011 NBA playoff campaign against Miami Heat. The Heat have been public enemy #1 around the country from the minute "The Decision" was made and they held their own championship celebration a few days later. which are both widely seen as a couple of the great PR mistakes in sports. Today marks the first chance someone has to to take them down.
As much as America may want to see a Sixers win, let's not mix words. The SIxers are seen as a long shot. Vegas set their odds of getting out of this series at 150/1. They are 10.5 point underdogs in this opening game and were swept by the Heat i the regular season. In fact, Miami won all three games comfortably by a margin of about 10 points.
There are is some good historical news if you're betting on the Sixers this afternoon, but not if you're rooting for them to win. Since 2005, there have been 734 NBA games where the home team was favored by between 9.5 and 11.5 points. The home team has won 85% of those matchups. However, the visitor has covered the spread 51.4% of the time.
That said Sixers fans aren't really going to care if they lose by nine and cover the spread. They want to win. So does this beat up, outgunned Sixers squad who finished the season terribly have any hope? There just might be a couple factors that the Sixers have going the way.
For one, this is what the entire season has been about for the Heat. The moment they held their championship celebration before the season, the regular season became an afterthought. It was really an 82 game preseason for the moment, because anything less than a NBA title for the Heat this year would be seen as a fairly massive failure. Sixers coach Doug Collins acknowledged that this has been the case for the Heat all year.
"When those three guys got together last summer, Saturday [the first game of the playoffs] is what they were shooting for. They did get through the regular season, but they're pinning their hopes on starting Saturday, that they can make a championship run."
This Heat team has proven so far to be the most mentally tough team as evidenced by their struggles in close games and Lebron James embarrassed himself by shutting down in the playoffs last year when things got tough. So could the weight of expectations help hurt the Heat?
The Sixers other possible advantage is the fact that they can something to Lebron James that few other teams can. They can put a defender of Andre Iguodala's stature on him for the game. Iguodala can matchup physically with Lebron and offer more of a challenge that most players in the game. It certainly doesn't mean Lebron will be shutdown, but there has to be something to said for the fact that this will likely be the toughest one on one matchup he gets in the Eastern Conference.
Of course, the Sixers have only one Andre Iguodala and the Heat have more than one star. So who guards Dwayne Wade? Jodie Meeks and/or Lou Williams(if he even plays) proved to be overmatched vs Wade in the regular season. So expect Jrue Holiday, who is more defensively capable than his backcourt mates to take on Wade often. Still, he presents a major mismatch that the Sixers have to figure out.
This will be the first ever meeting between these franchises in the postseason. The game tips off at 3:30 on ABC.