Improving Celtics head to Miami

BY foxsports • November 28, 2016

MIAMI -- It's not as if they still have Bird, McHale and Parish.

It's not as if -- going back even further -- they still have Russell and Cousy.

No, the Boston Celtics don't have any of those superstars. Their leading scorer is Isaiah Thomas -- and he's not that Isaiah Thomas, the Hall of Famer from Chicago.

This is the 5-foot-9 Isaiah Thomas, the one from Tacoma, Wash. Yet this particular Thomas, who is averaging 26.1 points and 6.3 assists, has continued a recent but substantial trend of Celtics domination over the Miami Heat.

Since Thomas joined the Celtics last season, Boston is 3-0 against the Heat, and it's an Eastern Conference rivalry that will be renewed on Monday night inside Miami's AmericanAirlines Arena.

But going back before Thomas arrived, Boston has won at least one game per season in nine of the past 10 years. That overlaps the time span when the Heat had far superior talent with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Now Miami's "Big Three" is effectively gone, and the Heat (5-11) is paying the price, falling to its current standing of 13th place out of 15 teams in the Eastern Conference.

The Celtics (9-7), meanwhile, appear to be a team on the rise, sitting in fifth place in the East at the moment.

Boston could be ready to get on a roll now that post player and four-time All-Star Al Horford has returned. He missed nine games due to a concussion, and he is just now rounding back into form after returning on Nov. 19.

"He makes a huge difference to our team," Thomas told the media. "Even if he is not scoring, he is still defending and making plays for his teammates."

Horford has two double-doubles in the four games since he came off the disabled list. He has averaged 16.8 points and 8.0 rebounds since returning, and both of those numbers are higher than his season averages.

Miami already struggles to score but may get strangled on Monday by Avery Bradley's tight defense. Bradley, a 6-2 shooting guard, is a dynamo who is just entering his prime after years of battling injuries.

Bradley, who made first-team All-Defense last season, leads Boston in rebounding (8.0) and is second in scoring (17.9).

Jae Crowder, a 6-6, 235-pound small forward, is Boston's other double-figure scorer, averaging 12.5 points.

Amir Johnson, a 6-9, 240-pound power forward, is Boston's fifth starter. He, Bradley and Horford are the key figures on Boston's defense. And remember, Boston was fifth in the NBA in defensive efficiency last season without Horford.

His defense has made the unit better.

The Heat will try to crack that defense, but it will depend to a large extent on some health issues. Point guard Goran Dragic (elbow) and shooting guard Dion Waiters (groin) are listed as questionable.

In addition, starting small forward Justise Winslow is out due to a wrist injury. It will be the eighth straight game he has missed.

"Has it been that long already?" Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said painfully. "Everything is day to day. He hasn't gone through a practice yet."

Generally, Spoelstra prefers that a player get at least one full practice in before returning to the lineup. But with Miami potentially missing three of its top four starters -- Dragic, Waiters and Winslow -- Spoelstra may have to alter that plan.

Miami will continue to rely on center Hassan Whiteside, who is averaging 16.8 points, 14.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.

On the perimeter, Miami will look to scorers such as Josh Richardson (10.8) and sixth-man Tyler Johnson (12.4).

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