04/04/12 1:40 pm EST
Anytime, the Sixers play the Darth Vader of the NBA, otherwise known as the Miami Heat, it is a huge game. But on Tuesday night, the 76ers trip to South Beach was about much more than facing the Evil Empire of the south. Last night’s loss could be a determining factor in how the 2011-2012 story of the Philadelphia 76ers will end.
After watching their division lead slip away to the Celtics, the Sixers now have to grind their way back to the top or face the inevitability of being a 7 or 8 seed in the East. Although many will claim the defeat in Miami was a foregone conclusion prior to tip off on Tuesday night, if you look closer, you’ll see importance of last night’s game, because if the Sixers would have pulled off the upset in Miami, they could have set themselves up for a final push to take back the Atlantic crown.
With Boston hosting the mighty and red hot Spurs (won 8 straight) tonight and the 7-6 taking on the lowly Raptors at the WFC, in theory we could have pulled even with the Celtics tonight. Instead the Sixers are now 1.5 games back of Boston, so the road to the division crown just got a little tougher heading into the season’s final stretch.
However, the Sixers schedule is much more favorable than that of their green rivals in Boston. Over the next week, the Celtics face the Spurs tonight, then the Bulls, the very underrated Pacers, and finally, the Heat. They also make a stop in Philly in what will be a crucial contest.
Meanwhile, the 7-6 face the win-challenged Raptors twice, and a defeated Nets team. On paper they should have a tough one vs. the Magic Saturday night, but D12 & Co. have now lost four in a row and there are rumors circulating of some drama going on in the Orlando locker room. The Sixers also have the gigantic match-up against the Celtics on the horizon, but we have owned Boston this year.
All of that was to point out how big an upset of Lebron, Wade, and Bosh would have been. It would be the perfect launching pad for the Sixers heading into a softer upcoming schedule and looming showdown with the Celtics.
The Sixers loss last night may represent what many have feared from the beginning, the reality of once again being a one and done team in the playoffs.
It was the fourth loss to the Heat this season and if the Sixers can’t rally for the division title, those four defeats have provided a scary preview for a potential match-up in the first round of the postseason. Remember, the Heat thrashed the Sixers in the three prior meetings this year. Although, the Sixers are improved from last year, it’s still hard to imagine the Sixers winning more than 1 game in a best of 7 series against a very motivated Heat team.
A win on Tuesday night would have gone a long way toward avoiding Miami in the playoffs. And if the Sixers are unable to eclipse the Celtics, and can’t avoid the Heat in the first round, they may look back at last night’s loss to a Wade-less Miami team and wonder…”What if…?”