Preview: Heat trying to right the ship at home, host streaking Celtics
TIME: 7 p.m.
Both teams are currently in playoff position, and yet both clubs have been disappointing in relation to preseason expectations.
The Celtics are 25-15, good enough for just fifth place in the Eastern Conference. This is a Boston franchise that in the past five years has progressed from 25 wins to 40, 48, 53 and 55. The Celtics entered the season with conference championship aspirations.
Meanwhile, the Heat are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference but with a losing record at 19-20 after a hard-fought, 103-99 loss to the visiting Denver Nuggets on Tuesday.
Miami seems to be stuck in mediocrity — not championship material but also not bad enough to likely capture a high pick in the NBA draft.
One recent and positive development for the Heat is the return of shooting guard Dion Waiters, who had been a starter for the team until going down due to ankle surgery and missing the season’s first 35 games. Since his return on Jan. 2, he has played two games — both off the bench — and he is averaging 11 points in 17.5 minutes.
“A healthy me, that’s all I can ask for,” Waiters said. “I don’t have to worry about anything.”
As a team, though, the Heat have concerns, notably the absence of 2018 All-Star point guard Goran Dragic, who is out for several weeks after knee surgery.
Another issue for Miami was perfectly illustrated on Tuesday night, when the Heat had seven players score in double figures but no one with more than Waiters’ 15 points.
This is a Heat team without any superstars, and, with Dragic out and a fading Dwyane Wade relegated to bench duty in his final season, no obvious All-Stars, either.
Meanwhile, the Celtics, who have won four consecutive games, have a star point guard in Kyrie Irving, who erupted for 40 points as recently as Christmas Day in an overtime win against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Boston also has Gordon Hayward, who scored 35 points on Jan. 2 against the Minnesota Timberwolves. And two younger Celtics players on the rise are 20-year-old Jayson Tatum, who is second on the team in scoring (16.2 points per game), and 22-year-old Jaylen Brown, who is averaging 12.3 points.
On Wednesday, the Celtics had their highest-scoring game of the season, a 135-108 rout of the visiting Indiana Pacers. It was the fifth straight game in which Boston had at least 30 assists.
Power forward Al Horford led Boston with eight assists.
“It’s just moving the ball and moving bodies,” Irving told the media earlier this week. “We’re creating opportunities for each other.”
Indeed, the Celtics, after a poor 7-8 record in November, are 13-5 since Dec. 1. However, they are just 10-10 on the road — which is where they will find themselves on Thursday — and they are only 2-4 on zero days of rest, which also applies in this case.
Miami, though, may or may not be equipped to take advantage. The Heat are just 9-12 at home and 9-15 on one day’s rest.
Other than Dragic, the Heat are at full strength. For Boston, the only injury to a significant player is the surgery on Aron Baynes‘ left hand. Baynes, a 6-10 center known for defense, started 67 games last season.