If you asked the Sixers ownership if this was the plan when they hired Doug Collins last June, they'd say absolutely. The truth is, this was the hope. After sinking into the abyss under Eddie Jordan, no one knew for sure what was left on this roster. They made a trade for salary cap purposes which tied Collins hands, but somehow, here we are. A few hours away from a trip to the playoffs against everyone's preseason favorite to win the championship, the Miami Heat. So what now?
Let's start at the end. I have the Sixers splitting the two games in Miami and then splitting the next two in Philly. A back-and-forth series that gets it back to Miami tied 2-2. At that point, I think the Sixers are running on fumes and Miami figures some things out. If you put a gun to my head, I'd take Miami in six games, but if the first four play out how I think they will, Miami is going to have an unbelievable amount of pressure on them. I don't think anyone can confidently say they're going to be able to handle it.
A couple things work in the Sixers favor: (1) All the pressure is on the Heat. Literally, every last iota of pressure, squarely on Miami's shoulders. If they don't win this series, all they'll hear about over the summer is how they're a bunch of chokers. They'll drown in the bad ink. (2) Collins. He's going to out-coach Spoelstra, no doubt in my mind.
The combination of those two things is in play this afternoon, and I think the Sixers take the first game. I think they take the first at home as well. The WFC will be packed, the crowd will be electric and Collins will have them ready after two off days to prepare and practice.
If you look at the series from a higher level, with a focus on the players, the Sixers are really going to need guidance from Iguodala and Brand. They've both been there before, they're the guys who need to be able to keep it together for the young guys when Miami goes on a run. They're the guys who need to keep Jrue focused on the details when things start spinning out of control (and they will.) Jrue is 20-years-old, this is the big time. This is the stage where he'll take that next step, or maybe decide he's going to put in the work to make the leap next year. When it's all over, will Jrue look back and say to himself, "I have to get back here. I have to get better." That's what you have to hope for coming out of these playoffs, whenever they end. In the short term, you hope he can rise to the occasion and take advantage of a favorable matchup.
As for Evan Turner, well, this is his last chance to salvage something of his rookie season and perhaps build some momentum to take into the playoffs. We've seen flashes recently, but they've been mingled with more of the same. If they can't get solid minutes off the bench from him at the two and three, they're going to be at a distinct disadvantage when they go to the bench, and Collins is probably going to have to rely on a seven-man rotation almost exclusively. If he shows up, though, if he can provide rebounding, some defense on Wade and a little bit of scoring punch, he could make a huge, huge difference.
I think I've written about 10,000 words on this series now, and in an hour or so I'll be talking about it with Derek on SixersBeat. That's enough. Let's just sit back, tune in to ABC and watch. That's all that that's left to do.
The tip is at 3:30, your game thread will be up at 2. Tune in to SixersBeat at 1, call in if you have a question/prediction as well.
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