INDIANAPOLIS -- Out of common sense and tradition, the Miami Heat must apply a moderate public face as they wait to see who their opponent will be in the Eastern Conference finals. But, to a man, there is no contest.
If the Boston Celtics are able to add another home Game 7 victory to their record books when they host the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night, the Heat will likely welcome the challenge and talk about how this is how it should be. The past champion Celtics making (probably) one final run and going against the Heat again, the fourth time LeBron James would see them in his postseason career, and No. 3 for Dwyane Wade. That certainly is what the Heat are likely preparing themselves for and perhaps even expecting when Game 1 of the conference finals arrives Monday night in Miami.
But honestly, the Heat will not be rooting for the Celtics on Saturday. It may have less poetry and glamour, but the Heat most likely would much rather see the 76ers pull the upset.
It is true that the 76ers are younger, more athletic, deeper and healthier than the Celtics at this point. But the Heat have dominated Philadelphia like no other team in the East over the past two seasons; the two teams have played 12 times, including the first round of last year’s playoffs. Eleven times the Heat have won, including sweeping this season's series 4-0.
The Heat haven’t beaten Boston since the first week of the season back in late December in their home opener. The Celtics are 3-0 against Miami since, though the last meeting was in the final week of the season and neither team played its full lineup. Boston beat the Heat twice in a two-week span in April as Rajon Rondo exploited them in both games. Even with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce limping and Avery Bradley out for the season, it’s not a comfortable matchup for the Heat.
Meanwhile, Miami used the 76ers like an elixir, beating them coming off losses all four times. The Heat held what proved to be a pivotal early-season team meeting on Philly’s own practice court. The last time the teams played, also in April, the Heat gave Wade the night off to rest ahead of a big game with Oklahoma City and won anyway.
James averaged 29.2 points against the 76ers during the regular season, his second-highest average against East playoff teams, and shot a cool 60 percent in the four games. As a team, the Heat averaged 99 points and shot 50 percent against the 76ers, winning the four games by an average of nearly 14 points.
The 76ers, meanwhile, averaged just 85.5 points against Miami this season, the fewest they averaged against any East team, and shot just 41 percent. They like to play up-tempo when they can and prefer to play small, which the Heat like to do, as well. The 76ers do not have a classic back-to-the-basket center, which is perhaps the Heat’s biggest weakness, as demonstrated at times against Roy Hibbert in the last round.
In short, Philly is a great matchup for the Heat. And they’ll be pulling for it.