Heat, Celtics face off with 2 seed likely at stake
Somehow, after 79 games, nothing between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat has been decided.
Tied for the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference, one team will take a stranglehold on the race for home-court through at least the first two playoff rounds on Sunday when the Celtics and Heat meet in Miami. Boston is 3-0 in the season-series between the clubs, and has won 18 of its last 20 games against the Heat since April 2007.
But if Miami finds a way on Sunday, that Celtic dominance may be temporarily forgotten.
''Let's toss the ball up and play,'' Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Saturday. ''We think we're a different team than the last three times we've played them, but until we prove it in between the lines, it doesn't matter.''
The Heat are understandably thrilled that Game 4 of the regular-season series is in Miami. That won't be the case if Game 4 of a potential Heat-Celtics postseason series is also in Miami.
The No. 1 seed in the East has been locked up by the Chicago Bulls, and in some order, seeds 2 and 3 will go to Miami and Boston. So that means the Heat and Celtics will be slotted to meet in the East semifinals - where Games 1, 2, 5 and 7 would be hosted by the higher seed.
''This is a big game for us,'' Boston forward Paul Pierce said in a story published on the team's website, Celtics.com. ''That's what we are playing for, for the home court advantage. Not only for the first round, but hopefully we will see them in the second round. This is a big game for us when you are talking about seeds and trying to advance in the playoffs. It's huge.''
For the Heat, there's more at stake than just home-court.
This season began with great hubbub in Boston, the team that not only ousted Miami from the playoffs a year ago, but also knocked out Cleveland - and LeBron James - in the second round last spring. Simply put, the Heat just want to prove to themselves that they can beat the Celtics.
''We're going against a team that we haven't beaten this year, that we kind of looked at before the season as needing to get to that point as far as chemistry, as far as what they do as a team,'' James said. ''There is not one guy on their team that you have to pay attention to - it's every last one of them. We're looking forward to the challenge.''
The games this year have not necessarily brought the best out of either club.
The season-opener got off to an ugly start, Boston leading 16-9 after the first quarter and eventually prevailing 88-80 after holding Miami to 36 percent shooting. They met again two weeks later, Boston taking as much as a 20-point lead that the Heat whittled down to three in the final half-minute before falling 112-107.
Then came an absolute second-half debacle for Miami on Feb. 13, when the Heat got outscored by 17 in the third quarter and lost again, 85-82.
''It's about the team that's going to make the plays down the stretch, who's going to execute the best down the stretch,'' Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. ''That team's going to win the ballgame.''
Sunday's winner will still likely need to post at least one more victory in the season's final two games to lock up the No. 2 spot. If the teams finish tied, Boston will take the tiebreaker, though neither side seems all that interested in the various permutations of what-might-happen.
They prefer the simpler terms. Win out, and get home-court twice.
''We control our own destiny,'' Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
So does Miami.
NOTES: Celtics C Shaquille O'Neal did not accompany the team on its flight to Miami on Saturday, still bothered by a strained right calf. ... Spoelstra reiterated Saturday that the decision to move Zydrunas Ilgauskas into the starting lineup at center is geared more toward getting ready for the playoff rotation. ... Heat F Chris Bosh, on the meaning of Sunday in terms of seeding: ''Our intentions were 1, but we have a chance to get 2. So that's not bad, and it's our first year together.''