There is one notable positive about playing the Heat in the first round: They're one of the few teams not headed for the lottery with possibly less talent at the center position than the Sixers. The odds of Spencer Hawes having a decent game are probably higher than Dampier, Joel Anthony and Zydrunas Ilgauskus catching lightning in a bottle, not that they're all that high for Hawes.
I probably should've started with the centers, simply because it's the most boring matchup. Spencer Hawes is probably due for at least one game of "hey, this guy might be slightly below average center!" showing. If the stars align, he could give the team a big boost. Otherwise, the center matchup basically comes to whether Hawes will hurt the team any more than Dampier/Z/Anthony hurt the Heat.
Different keys for each of Miami's three centers:
- Ilgauskus is pretty much just a set-shot guy from about 18 feet. He can hit it, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't help off him to stop Wade and LeBron from driving.
- Joel Anthony might have the least offensive talent of any player in the NBA. Two things to focus on when you're guarding him. Don't let him get lob dunks, and don't let him get offensive rebounds. He makes Reggie Evans look like Hakeem in the post.
- Erick Dampier is old, out-of-shape and lazy, but he's big. He'll clear space in the middle, he'll work for offensive rebounds, and I suppose he can finish if he gets the ball point blank. He's probably the worst matchup for Hawes, though none of these guys is going to get enough looks to make much of an impact...at least they shouldn't.
On the offensive end, I'd much prefer seeing Hawes play Payton when he gets the ball at the top of the key over him jacking 20-footers, though he greatly prefers the former to the latter. When Hawes gets the all up there, faces up, and lets the wings cut, it puts pressure on the defense, and it makes the opposing wings work. Anything to get LeBron and Wade running off screens is good in my book.
I expect we won't see a whole lot of Hawes if he continues to play he has over the past couple of weeks. Miami likes to go small and the Sixers thrive on it. When Bosh is at the five and LeBron is at four, expect Hawes to be watching from the bench. It'll be interesting to see if Brand or Hawes plays more minutes at the five in each game.
The Backups: Let's face, all these stiffs are backups. The only question about the bench is whether Battie or Speights will see time. I think it's a good sign if Battie gets minutes, that probably means it's a competitive game and Collins is looking to keep a big body out there for defense/rebounding. If Speights sees time, it probably means the Sixers are getting killed and Collins is willing to try anything.
What needs to happen: Just keep it even. 10 points to 10 points. And avoid a huge rebounding deficit. Modest goals for the weakest position on both rosters.
Thoughts in the comments, as usual. Coaches are up next, expect that late tonight. Then tomorrow my full series preview. Also, a bonus programming note. Derek Bodner and I will host an episode of SixersBeat at 1pm tomorrow. Tune in for our series preview.