With the regular season over, the 76ers already have embraced their role as playoff underdogs to the Miami Heat.

Wednesday's 104-100 loss to the Detroit Pistons at the Wells Fargo Center ended a 41-41 season for the Sixers, who will begin their best-of-seven series against the Heat on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Miami.

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The last winning season for the Sixers came in 2004-05, when they were 43-39.

The Sixers' reward is a date with the Heat, often perceived as the NBA's new villain after LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined forces with Dwyane Wade.

Fans either gravitate toward the Heat or despise them. They have a rock-star aura.

"You know it will be an incredible atmosphere, something our younger guys haven't seen before," Sixers coach Doug Collins said. "It is not just sports, but other media, like TMZ, will be there."

The Sixers are smart enough not to play the "we don't get any respect" card.

They understand that this year they went 0-3 against a Heat team that finished 15-3 in its last 18 games. No one is writing off Miami as a potential Eastern Conference champion, and the Sixers are not even mentioned in the same paragraph as the Heat.

"You've got to embrace the underdog role," forward Elton Brand said.

Don't look for any outlandish predictions, but the team will be displaying a quiet confidence.

"Outside of myself, if I was a fan and saw Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James, I would take that team too, but at the end of the day we are all professionals," guard Lou Williams said. "The playoffs are a brand new season and an opportunity for all 16 teams to go for a championship, and everybody has the same shot."

The Sixers realize that in most people's minds, they are playing this series with house money and that all the pressure is on the favorite.

"We have nothing to lose, and we're going to go in there and try to have fun," said guard Jodie Meeks, who likely will get the assignment of guarding Wade.

Williams says he hopes he can return Saturday from a hamstring injury that forced him to miss the final five games of the regular season. If so, that would give the team a major spark off the bench.

Without Williams and Andre Iguodala, who sat out the final two regular-season games to rest his right knee (tendinitis), the Sixers offense struggled.

"Looking at our guys' eyes, I feel we were mentally and physically tired," Collins said of his team, which lost five of the final six games.

Jrue Holiday scored 21 points for the Sixers in the finale while Evan Turner and Andres Nocioni each scored 18. Rodney Stuckey paced Detroit with 29 points.

Collins pointed out how well Nocioni played. The veteran may have earned some postseason minutes.

"I came here tonight and last game ready and to show Coach I could play," Nocioni said. "Now it's not me, it's Coach's decision."

The coach will have many decisions for a team whose biggest task is to regain the energy that seems to have been lost lately.

76ers vs. Heat

Saturday at Heat, 3:30 p.m., 6ABC

Monday at Heat, 7 p.m., TNT

Next Thursday at 76ers, TBA, TNT

April 24 at 76ers, 1 p.m., 6ABC

*April 27 at Heat, TBA.

*April 29 at 76ers, TBA.

*May 1 at Heat, TBA.

*If necessary.EndText

Read The Inquirer's 76ers blog, "Deep Sixer," by Kate Fagan at http://go.


Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or mnarducci@phillynews.com.