Barring some absurd collapse by the Hawks, over the remaining 7 games, we’re a lock for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. So it’s clearly time to consider what the first round of said playoffs may realistically look like.
Tonight the Philadelphia 76ers assumed a half-game lead for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, slipping past the Miami Heat, who have held that slot for quite some time. Perusing the ongoing banter, on Big Ray’s most recent post, it seems quite a few folks would prefer to face the Heat, rather than the Sixers, in the first round.
I’m afraid I have to disagree. I’ll be rooting for the Sixers to hold onto the 5th seed and emerge as our first-round opponent, regardless of how we’ve faired against them this season. I know, I know, we’re 2-1 against the Heat this year, while going 1-2 against Philly.
But let me give you four reasons why I don’t want to see the Heat in the first-round (in ascending order of importance):
1) Michael Beasley: yup, I know he’s a rookie and I know he’s not even starting. And I know that the Heat have purposefully kept a leash on him, for the most part, through the regular season. But the playoffs are about bringing a twist to the show, unless you’re one of the legitimate contenders for the title. So when I watched Beasley shred the Hawks defense for 23 points, in 25 minutes, in a road loss a month ago, WHILE Marvin was on the floor and playing 40 minutes, I took notice. With no Marvin, Beasley is a match-up nightmare for the home team. And unleashing Beasley is the most likely “twist” the Heat can bring to the dance. It’s not like their coaching staff didn’t tape his performance that night (I think 20 of his points came in the second-half). Beasley is like that old TacoBell commercial, “Good to go”.
2) Jermaine O’Neal: I know he’s a shadow of his old self, and a downright dog at over $20 million a year. But he’s only a couple of years removed from being one of the best big men in the league, and if it really is just a matter of effort, then he may embrace the opportunity to “remind” the league that he’s still legitimate (especially as a precursor to next season’s “contract year” push). Motivated and healthy, he’s a major headache for Horford. Unlike the Sixers, with Dalembert in the post, he’s capable of providing the Heat with monster production on both ends of the floor. Just sayin’….
3)D Wade: simply put he’s one of the three best players in the NBA, along with LeBron and Kobe. He’s capable of single-handedly putting his supporting cast on his broad shoulders and torching the Hawks with an epic individual performance. We do not have a single backcourt match-up, for him, that emboldens a modicum of confidenct in our ability to slow him down. Not Johnson, not Flip, not the under-utilized Acie Law, and not Mike Bibby (Stop That! I can here you snickering from my laptop, and I’ve got the dang thing on mute). There is no one on the Philadelphia roster who poses even a fraction of the potential to be a one-man wrecking crew, like Wade. Throw all the other numbers and individual match-ups out the damn window, we DO NOT want to be the first-round favorite against a D. Wade team.
4) Could be 3B, but it’s not. Here’s what Bill Simmons (yes, I have no hesitation in acknowledging that Simmons is my hero) has to say about the way the NBA’s officials deal with the three best players in the league, Wade, Kobe and Lebron:
“I also wrote, “seeing an individual triumph over a team YET AGAIN would erase every positive outcome from the 2005-06 season. Basically, the team with LeBron or Wade will win the next 10-12 titles, and it will come down to which guy made more 20-footers with two guys on him and which guy got the most cheap calls from the most spineless referees. That’s not basketball, it’s a star system.”
Flash-forward to 2009: With the post-Donaghy hangover gone, we’re back to that star system again. Kobe, LeBron and Wade are officiated differently than everyone else. And you know what else? They know it. Watch LeBron at the end of games now — he barrels toward the basket, bounces off guys and knows he’ll get a call. Here’s the shame of it: LeBron, Wade and Kobe are playing at the highest level of any three stars since Jordan, Barkley and Hakeem in 1993. They would be great with or without the help. I don’t blame them — they play hard every night and do whatever it takes to win. But if you don’t think we’re headed for a Kobe-LeBron Finals, you’re insane.”
In short, I feel comfortable that, with home court advantage, for 4 of the possible 7 games, we can handle the Sixers, who continue to exhibit the fatal flaw of a virtually non-existent 3-point shooting threat, which is especially helpful in a potential matchup with the Hawks. But I don’t want any part of Dwayne Wade. And I definitely don’t want to give the NBA, and it’s seemingly incompetent (or simply corrupt) officials, the opportunity to “hand” Wade a first-round upset of the Hawks, to drive television ratings for a compelling second-round matchup with the Cavs (what would be more optimal for the NBA’s marketing goals than a second-round Wade-Lebron matchup, followed by either the Cavs against the Celtics, or the Dwight Howard-led Magic, followed by the ultimate Finals matchup, that Simmons points towards, of Kobe vs. Lebron?).
Give me a conspiracy-free first-round matchup against the Sixers. No league marketing agenda to concern ourselves with. And an opportunity to exit the second round with a little noise, against the Cavs, like we gave the Celtics in last years’ first-round.
That’s what I’m talkin’ about……..