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Celtics could be a Heat playoff nightmare

By Ira Winderman, Sun Sentinel –

The Miami Heat won’t just be seeing the Boston Celtics in April, the teams essentially will spend the month as roommates.

Three of the Heat’s final 16 games will be against the Celtics, with two of the Heat’s remaining six road games at TD Garden.

The question is whether April will include another game or two against Boston at the start of an opening-round playoff series.

The greater question is whether such a No. 2-vs.-No. 7 opening-round pairing would be as much of a threat as in previous seasons.

Granted, the Heat handled Boston, 115-107, in their AmericanAirlines Arena opener on Dec. 27, but a lot has changed for the Celtics since then, besides Paul Pierce returning to the lineup.

Foremost, the situation at center grew so dire that Kevin Garnett now finds himself as Boston’s man in the middle. Beyond that, the depth has been lacking and the injuries have been mounting.

But, still, we’re talking about Garnett, Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo, a core that had the Heat desperate for a makeover in April 2010, a makeover that now has the Heat playing from a position of strength with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

The Celtics took that 2010 opening-round series in five games. Last year, the Heat finished off the Celtics in five games in the second round.

Considering the Heat have a game in Boston the final week of the season, there certainly would be plenty of room for seeding manipulation.

But an Eastern Conference scout who recently has spent time watching the Heat and could possibly find his own team facing the Celtics in the playoffs, said these not only aren’t the Celtics of 2010, they hardly even resemble the feisty Celtics of last season.

“They’re having so many issues with the injuries this year,” he said. “They just haven’t been able to stay healthy. And it has a lot to do with bad luck and certainly age. I think if they’re going to have to play a Chicago or Miami, they have no chance. If they’re playing Indiana? Sure. But I don’t think they can beat either one of those teams in a seven-game series.”

Even with Garnett, Pierce, Rondo and Allen?

“It’s the combination of little things,” the scout said. “Garnett, he’s dropped off quite a bit, I think, both offensively and defensively. Paul Pierce, he’s dropped off a little bit, too. Ray, I think maintains pretty much what he does. He doesn’t show his age as much.”

Then there’s Rondo, who has shown an ability in the past to singularly dominate the Heat.

“But he can’t do it by himself and when he tries to, he just tries to do too much,” the scout said. “And I think he gets in trouble a little bit.

“I just think it’s a tough matchup for Boston to play Miami or Chicago. If they could get to the sixth spot, then I’d give them a chance to get to the next round, but I don’t give them a chance if they finish seventh or eighth.”

Another potential first-round possibility for the Heat are the New York Knicks, a team that has had far less playoff success than the Celtics in recent years. No matter, the scout said.

“I think Boston’s more beatable than New York,” he said. “I think New York, they’re juiced up, have a second life. They’re going to be pretty tough. They’re a lot younger. I’d rather play Boston.”

As for the Heat’s preference? They should have a better sense Sunday, when they face the Celtics for the first time in more than three months.


STEALING THUNDER: The original plan never had the Heat stealing the Marlins’ thunder. In fact, even after the lockout change the plan, the Heat still tried to get out of the Marlins’ way. Instead, when the Marlins formally unveil their new ballpark Wednesday in their regular-season opener, the Heat will be hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder three miles to the east. The original NBA schedule announced prior to the lockout, had the Heat playing Wednesday in Atlanta. Even after the lockout reconfigured the schedule, the Heat, according to the Twitter account of owner Micky Arison, tried to move their biggest interconference home game away from Wednesday. Unlike other changes granted from the initial post-lockout schedule, the NBA was unable to reconfigure the Heat out of potentially stealing the Marlins’, well, thunder.

DRAFT DETAILS: As the college season comes to a close, it is worth noting the despite dealing a series of first-round picks to the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers to complete the respective sign-and-trade deals for Chris Bosh and LeBron James in July 2010, the Heat maintain their first-round pick in this June’s draft due to the Stepien Rule, which prohibits teams from trading future first-round picks in successive years. The Heat’s first-round pick last year went to the Raptors, which then, through a series of trades, was routed back to the Heat to utilize on Norris Cole. Cleveland has the opportunity to flip-flip first-round picks with the Heat in June (which they obviously won’t do) and then most likely will get the Heat’s first-round picks in 2013 and 2015, provided neither of those picks are among the first 10. The Heat’s second-round pick this June goes to the New Jersey Nets to complete the 2010 Chris Quinn salary dump.

SLOW DOWN, PLEASE: Sorry, didn’t realize we had hit free agency yet, and still sure the NBA calendar says it doesn’t start until July 1. But for all the buzz created this past week by Steve Nash and Jason Terry acknowledging intrigue with the Heat, keep in mind the Heat will be in position to offer nothing more than the $3 million taxpayer mid-level exception this summer, which might have been good enough in December to land Shane Battier, but Battier wasn’t earning the $11 million that Nash and Terry are each earning this season. A sign-and-trade would be another possibility, but we’re not sure the Suns, Mavericks or anyone would be jumping at Mike Miller’s contract.

NUMBERS GAME: Want minutiae? Well, we got your minutiae right here (OK, actually Elias Sports Bureau has it). Having led the Heat 29-24 at the end of the first quarter in Thursday loss at AmericanAirlines Arena, the Dallas Mavericks then scored 24, 19 and 13 in each of the ensuing quarters. So what? Here’s what: It was only the fourth time in the shot-clock era a team scored fewer than 30 points in a first quarter and had its point total drop by at least five points in each ensuing quarter. The last time it happened was when the Chicago Bulls did it against the Heat on March 26, 2003. The difference was the Bulls won that game 82-74, after going 29, 24, 17, 12.

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