Tonight in Miami, the Celtics and Heat will do battle in a rematch of last spring's conference semifinals, when the hated Heat brushed aside the aging C's in five games on their way to an NBA Finals appearance. Boston played Miami well for the most part, but Rajon Rondo, their sparkplug and most talented player, got injured. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James always seemed to catch fire in the fourth quarter, putting their elderly rivals away with an impressive array of clutch shots.
Miami has to be considered the favorite again this year, though some of the circumstances have changd. Here's some food for thought in regards to the upcoming series:
-Luckily for Boston Miami will be without Chris Bosh. Bosh, who performed basketball-related activities for the first time since leaving the court during Game 1 against Indiana, has been ruled out for tonight's tilt but could return at some point in the series. Without him the Heat lack a legitimate frontcourt scoring option. As long as he is sidelined, the C's have to take advantage of his absence. Interestingly, Bosh seems to have modeled his offensive game around Kevin Garnett's, since both inflict the majority of their damage from outside the key with their unblockable jump shots. Sometimes it's nice to have long arms, even when you're not reaching for something on the top shelf.
-Speaking of the Big Ticket Celtics guards will have to keep feeding Garnett, who looks rejuvenated this postseason and is averaging 19.2 points and 10.8 boards while shooting over 50 percent from the floor. Philadelphia did a good job of keeping him from posting up in the paint and forcing him to settle for outside jumpers and turnarounds, but KG's range extends to the three point line and his midrange game is top notch. He needs to keep playing at a high level if Boston is going to compete in this series.
-Something about Mike Miller scares me. Could it be the tattoos? Perhaps the greasy mess of hair? It's not his three point stroke, that's for sure.
-Any chance Rondo records multiple triple-doubles this series?
-As always the marquee matchup is between Paul Pierce and LBJ. James is obviously the most talented player in the Association, but the "Truth" is a reliable crunch time scorer (unlike Bron Bron) who's a rugged warrior in his own right. Both like to use their size and strength to barrel into the lane and attack the rim because they are outstanding finishers. They have a deep repertoire of moves to score, but Pierce has a much smoother shot. Both pass well and play good defense, too. As we saw in Game 7 of the 2008 conference semis, they can bring the best out of each other.
-Really missing Mark Jackson in the broadcast booth. Breen and Jeff Van Gundy don't have the same chemistry without him.
-On defense Boston will sorely miss Avory Bradley, who had developed into the team's best perimeter defender since "Trick or Treat" Tony Allen but is done for the year. That leaves Ray Allen to cover Wade, a very challenging assignment. To his credit, Ray Ray looked good on defense during Game 7, staying with his man and contesting shots. While he's made considerable improvements to that facet of his game since coming over from Seattle in 2007, I'd rate his D as average at best. Most of his value comes on the offensive end from his lethal three point shooting that spreads the floor and opens up lanes for Pierce and Rondo to drive. On the other hand, Wade is one of the game's premier shooting guards because he combines a hard-nose style of offense with good defense/ncredible shot blocking for his size. He plays a physical brand of basketball and figures to wear Allen out when he's on offense. On defense he won't give Allen much space, and will limit Ray to spot-up shooting and shots coming off screens. Allen's teammate will have to find him so he can make the most of these opportunities, because he's not going to be able to do much one-on-one against D-Wade.
-What the Celtics are really missing is an instant offense guy off the bench, somebody who can come in and just ignite the team with a couple quick threes. Memories of Eddie House and Nate Robinson.
-Boston has the edge in coaching. Erik Spoelstra's pretty bright and is better than most people give him credit for, but he's no Doc Rivers. Doc has a great feel for this team and knows how to squeeze the most out of them. He's earned their trust, and vice-versa.
Obviously I want the Celtics to win, but realistically I still think Miami is the better team, even without Bosh. Had the Green polished off the Sixers in five games and gotten some much needed rest, this might be a different story. But against the Heat they will probably run out of gas.
My Prediction: Heat in six