ANDRE MILLER acknowledged that every team in the Eastern Conference wanted to avoid Cleveland, the NBA's best team, and Boston, the reigning champion.

Securing the sixth seed in the playoffs indeed let the Miller and the Sixers "duck" (his word) the top two seeds.

Except that the Sixers lost all three games this season to the Magic, too, and that's the team the Sixers face Sunday when their playoff journey begins, the first game in the best-of-seven quarterfinal.

They picked their poison. Can they survive it?

"We just wanted to put ourselves in position where we can try to do something in the playoffs," Miller said. "Boston is a team that people have in the conference finals. It's probably easier to go through Orlando than to try and match up with Boston, with Boston coming in with a lot of energy and trying to get through the first round as fast as they can."

Even though the Sixers' defense against three-pointers is mediocre, and the Magic makes more threes per game than any playoff team? (The Sixers make the fewest and shoot the worst.)

Even with Celtics star Kevin Garnett out indefinitely with his balky knee?

"It doesn't matter," Miller said.

Actually, the matchup isn't horrible for the Sixers. Orlando starters Hedo Turkgolu (ankle) and Rashard Lewis (knee) are hobbled. It lost three of its last four games.

Miller and the rest of the Sixers made sure to stress that they meant no disrespect to the Magic. They understand that they might not have an answer for Orlando's three-point shooting and Dwight Howard, perhaps the league's most dynamic post presence.

Still . . .

"I agree with 'Dre," Thaddeus Young said. "Orlando's a great team, but we definitely want to play them. Boston is fresh off a championship. That's the worst thing you can do is go play a team that just won a championship. They're going to want to get back and be hungry."

Orlando's playoff history is much thinner. The Magic made it beyond the first round last season for the first time since 1996.

The Sixers haven't made it past the first round since 2003. Only Samuel Dalembert was around back then, and he was hurt all season.

Wednesday's win in Cleveland, the Sixers' first in seven games, meant only the lesser of the evils.

"We've had problems with Orlando, too," Miller acknowledged.

They lost twice in November, when All-Star guard and Saint Joseph's product Jameer Nelson was running things, but season-ending shoulder surgery sidelined him before the final meeting, Feb. 28. The Sixers lost that game, too, blowing a 10-point lead as the Magic bombed from long range, hitting five threes in the last 8 minutes, 18 seconds.

At the time, Orlando was emerging from a free fall; the win helped the Magic right itself. It took a great stretch run from the Celtics to secure the second seed from Orlando.

"That's what people don't realize," said Andre Iguodala. "I think people are underestimating them."

Certainly, the Sixers are not among those people.

After securing a playoff spot, the Sixers lost six straight, in part because they played without Young, who missed five of those games with right foot injuries, and, in part, because they lost something else.

"We just lost it, mentally," Miller said. "Any time you relax in this league, bad things happen. I think relaxed a little bit, and that triggered a losing streak. Just like last year."

Those Sixers lost four in a row and five of six entering a first-round series with Detroit, winning the first game but falling to the seasoned Pistons in six. The experience opened the eyes of Iguodala, who faced double- and triple-teams - a strategy he might face again Sunday.

This time, Iguodala will handle it better, coach Tony DiLeo said. Iguodala has seen that pressure occasionally this season, and Lou Williams and Young are better equipped to make teams pay for smothering the Sixers' star.

Offense isn't the worry. It's defense, defense, defense, for this young, scatterbrained club.

"Our defense is horrible right now," Young said. "We've got to go out there and focus in and stop guys. It can't be, 'OK, if a guy hits a shot, I'll get him next time.' "

Iguodala has said he and the rest of the players should hold one another accountable for defensive lapses, especially in the postseason, when every possession is magnified. The team's defense has been better, at times, in the two games since Young's return, but it is inconsistent at best. So, expect to see some reprimands, Sixer-to-Sixer.

"We want it to happen a little bit more," Young said. "We're letting guys get by."

The apparent indifference, or at least inattention, of some of the key young players - rookie Mareesse Speights and Williams, especially - cost the club dearly when it lacked Young.

Things might be even tougher if Dalembert, the designated shot-blocker, is limited by the strained right shoulder he suffered two games ago. DiLeo said that with the scheduled rest, Dalembert should be fine.

With a 3-day break before Game 1 and 2 days off between Games 1 and 2, Dalembert won't be the only Sixer looking forward to some healing time.

"It's going to help me. I've been playing a lot," Miller said.

Young, too, needs a few days to recuperate from back-to-back starts after 2 weeks off, healing his sprained ankle and bruised bone. Expect him and the rest of the Sixers to be off and running when it is time.

"It's an advantage for us. We like to run," Young said. "Other teams might be tired at this point of the year."

It might be the Sixers' only advantage. *