The Philadelphia 76ers needed to open the second half of the year with a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Feb. 21. Instead, the Sixers came out flat and never recovered, even against a Timberwolves team that is out of the Western playoff picture. As such, the Miami Heat are probably expecting to barely break a sweat when they visit Philadelphia on Feb. 23 – and that may be the Sixers’ only hope.
There is never a good time to face the defending world champion Heat, even for teams better than the Sixers. However, the circumstances of this game seem like overkill. Not only is Philadelphia 22-30 and barely hanging on in the Eastern playoff picture, it happens to be facing a Miami team on a nine-game winning streak.
If the Sixers had played the Heat a month ago, when they seemed to be saving their energy for the postseason, they might have had a chance. But now that the second half of the year has started, Miami is turning the switch on and going into championship mode. LeBron James has been on the biggest hot streak of his career, while the Heat as a whole have blown the race for the Eastern No. 1 seed wide open.
With nine straight wins and a big cushion in the standings, the Heat may rest up and power down at some point. The Sixers have been so poor lately that the Heat could afford to play down to the competition, if only until crunch time. However, Philadelphia still has to do its own part.
The Sixers couldn’t beat the Heat in the 2011 postseason, or beat them at all in the shortened 2011-12 regular season. Those two Sixers teams were far superior to this year’s version, which doesn’t bode well for them to do any better now.
When Philadelphia acquired Andrew Bynum last summer, it hoped it would get one step closer to challenging Miami for Eastern supremacy. But with the Sixers and Heat now meeting for the first time this season tonight, circumstances have become far different and far more dire for Philadelphia.