Sixers coach Doug Collins said he feels his team is "in a good place" after losing five of their final six regular-season games. Collins filled practices on Thursday and Friday with extensive film work and walk-through preparation because his team is desperately in need of superior execution.
"Let's go in and see how we're going to play against the Miami Heat," Collins said he told his team. "Everybody thinks they're going to run us off. If we don't go in with the idea that we can win, we shouldn't go down there. And let's see what we have to do."
The Sixers flew to Miami on Friday afternoon after practice. Guard Lou Williams (right hamstring strain) and swingman Andre Iguodala (right knee tendinitis) are officially listed as game-time decisions, but both are expected to play.
What makes this a lopsided series, at least on paper, is the matchup problems the Heat present. When these two teams last met, just a few weeks ago, Collins started Holiday on Miami point guard Mike Bibby, shooting guard Jodie Meeks on Dwyane Wade, Iguodala on LeBron James, power forward Elton Brand on Chris Bosh, and center Spencer Hawes on Erick Dampier.
Miami won that game, 111-99, exposing the Sixers during two separate, phenomenal bursts of offense.
This time around, the Heat will likely start center Zydrunas Ilgauskas in place of Dampier, but the more crucial matchups involve Wade and James. In that 111-99 victory, Wade (39 points) and James (32 points) combined for 71 points, proving unstoppable in key moments.
Meeks can't guard Wade; and Iguodala can only play so many minutes against James.
Collins will likely need to deploy Holiday on Wade for long stretches, perhaps even beginning from tip off. Reserve forward Thaddeus Young will also likely need to defend James for chunks of time, although Collins said he has no "preconceived notion" of how he'll run his in-game substitutions.
Collins, who coached Michael Jordan, said he knows the best players approach a playoff series with a focus on burying an opponent early, even in the first quarter of the first game.
Collins said he believes Wade and James have this type of postseason focus.
"One of the things you have to do is navigate the emotional things you go through as a team in the playoffs," Collins said. "Especially your players: You can't be too high, you can't be too low."
The Sixers will trot out a starting lineup that includes three playoff virgins: Holiday, Meeks, and Hawes. In a way, the Sixers are hoping this naivety could serve them well.
"This year, it's us against the world," Holiday said. "Now we have some Philly fans on our back again, but going into the playoffs we're the underdogs."
Guarding the Heat
and Dwyane Wade combined for 71 points in Miami's March victory. Here is how the Sixers plan to adjust:
Last time: Mostly
This time: Extensive help from Thaddeus Young.
Last time: Jodie Meeks.
This time: Jrue Holiday.
Contact staff writer Kate Fagan at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/DeepSixer3 and read her blog, Deep Sixer, on Philly.com