Miami Heat at Boston Celtics game preview
The Miami Heat have been tested every which way this month, and they’ve not only survived but risen to first place in the Southeast Division.
Still awaiting word on the health of their leading scorer and official status of a key addition, the Heat will visit the Boston Celtics on Saturday for their next obstacle against one of the league’s hottest home teams.
While playing through a tough stretch on the court, Miami (32-25) has faced adversity off it. A revolving door of injuries continued to spin with news at the All-Star break that Chris Bosh is dealing with blood clots for the second straight season.
Bosh, averaging 19.1 points, missed the final 30 games of 2014-15 due to a blood clot in his lung and has the same issue in his leg. It remains unclear if he will return, though reports say doctors and the team are urging him to sit out the rest of the season.
It’s just one level in the growing stack of Miami’s health concerns. Backup point guard Beno Udrih underwent foot surgery this week and will miss three months, while Tyler Johnson will likely miss the rest of the season after shoulder surgery. Dwyane Wade and Hassan Whiteside have each missed games this month.
"Look, you would prefer to have 15 guys available, but very rarely do you play more than 10 guys in a game," coach Erik Spoelstra said at Friday’s practice. "So we’re 10 strong and that’s enough. Is it ideal? I don’t even care. That’s what we have right now."
It appears the Heat have filled one spot with reports of the signing of Joe Johnson, who was bought out by Brooklyn earlier this week and could sign with Miami on Saturday when he clears waivers. Johnson would fill a shooting need for the Heat as he has made 85 3-pointers, four more than Bosh’s team-leading total.
Johnson could play Sunday at New York at the earliest.
The Heat have been able to overtake struggling Atlanta in the Southeast even while short-handed. They dropped back-to-back games against the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio entering the break but returned with wins over the Hawks, Washington and Indiana.
That streak was snapped with Wednesday’s 118-112 loss to Golden State, though 13 lead changes in the fourth quarter against the league’s top team elicited confidence from Spoelstra – whose club has won six of seven on the road.
"It’s hardened us," Spoelstra said of the difficult stretch. "That doesn’t guarantee anything, but I like the qualities that it’s been bringing out of us."
The next challenge is a trip to TD Garden, where Boston (34-25) has rattled off nine straight wins. But the Celtics have cooled since their 9-1 overall stretch from Jan. 22-Feb. 7, trading wins and losses in their last six.
While Miami’s defense ranks toward the top of the NBA by holding opponents to an average of 96.9 points, Boston’s offense has risen into the top five at 106.2 points per game thanks to a mark of 118.0 over the last seven.
Despite Miami’s division lead, Boston still holds the Eastern Conference’s third seed.
"We know that they’re right behind us and we definitely want to create some separation in the standings," point guard Isaiah Thomas told the team’s official website.
Boston, which opened a five-game homestand with Thursday’s 112-107 win over Milwaukee, earned a 105-95 victory in Miami on Nov. 30. Avery Bradley made 3 of 6 3-pointers en route to 25 points, while Wade led the Heat with 30.
Miami has won two straight and three of four in Boston.