It might not be hyperbole to call the Boston Celtics-Miami Heat Eastern Conference semifinal matchup the best second-round playoff pairing in years. When these two played on Opening Night it was easily the most-hyped opener ever (and a betting bonanza at sportsbooks). This is a series that everyone has been pointing toward pretty much since then – makes you wonder if the Celtics now regret tanking those final few games at the end of the regular season, which gave home court in this series to Miami (although it turned out it wouldn’t have mattered).
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“This is the series everyone wanted to see,” LeBron James said to reporters. “I think we always felt it would happen at some point. We didn’t know if it would be first round, second round or Eastern Conference finals. It’s here now.”
You could argue that the reason LeBron left Cleveland was because of the Celtics. Boston eliminated his Cavaliers in seven games in the second round in 2008, and last season finished James’ Cleveland career in six.
Boston was the most impressive team of the first round in sweeping the Knicks. No other team managed a first-round sweep. Some would argue that a week off is not a good thing, but for Boston it probably is because it is such a veteran team. Miami, meanwhile, eliminated the Sixers in five pretty close games, finishing it off on Wednesday.
Celtics vs. Heat Betting Storylines
Let’s start with the key injuries first. When the Celtics traded Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City at the deadline, they were counting on Shaquille O’Neal being healthy for the playoffs. But he has played less than six total minutes since Feb. 1 and missed all of the Knicks series – Jermaine O’Neal filled in very capably, however. The Celtics are hoping Shaq can play in this series, but they really don’t know for sure. O'Neal has reported improvement in the injury over the past few days. He ran through some plays and shot baskets on Thursday and was to do the same Friday. There probably won’t be a definitive call until perhaps before Game 1 on Sunday.
Miami actually does have players other than LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and probably its two most important ones are Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem. Miller, who can help stretch defenses when he’s on (which he hasn’t been really all year), has a left thumb injury that limited him to fewer than seven total minutes in the first-round series with the 76ers. Haslem has been out since November foot surgery and was hoping to be back a month ago. Following practice Friday, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra hinted that he wasn't counting either player for Game 1 and likely beyond. Spoelstra said he will stick with the same starting lineup he used vs. the Sixers, with Mike Bibby and Zydrunas Ilgauskas joining the Big 3. That fivesome was outscored 131-102 by the Philly starters in the first four games of the series.
Boston won the first three meetings of the season against Miami, but then the surging Heat won 100-77 at home on the final Sunday of the season – really that was the game that gave home court and the No. 2 seed to Miami and caused Boston coach Doc Rivers to sit his starters in the final two games of the regular season.
LeBron averaged 28.8 points despite shooting 3 of 15 from three-point range in the four games. He dominated Paul Pierce, who averaged just 17.3 ppg. Certainly Miami needs more from Wade, who scored only 12.8 points per game, his lowest against any opponent. Ray Allen, meanwhile, averaged 20.3 points against Miami, going 16 of 28 (57 percent) from three-point range. He was great against the Knicks, too, and if he outplays Wade again this series is easy to pick.
The key to the series is probably Rajon Rondo – it’s at point guard where Boston has a massive advantage. Rondo averaged 19 points, 12 assists and 7.3 rebounds during the first-round sweep against the Knicks. Rondo has averaged 12 assists a game against the Heat this season, but the rest of his offensive numbers (7.5 points a game, 37 percent shooting) weren’t great. He should have his way with Mario Chalmers and Bibby, however.
Celtics vs. Heat Betting Odds and Key Trends
Miami is at -200 on the series line with Boston at +170 – the ‘over under’ for total games is 5.5 at Bodog, with the ‘over’ at -190. For Game 1 in Miami, the Heat are -5 and the total is 182.5.
Boston is 8-3 in its past 11 as a playoff dog.
Miami is 2-5 ATS in its past seven home games.
The ‘under’ is 7-1 in Boston’s past eight following a win as well as the Heat’s past eight following a win.
The home team is 5-1 ATS in the past six meetings.
The ‘under’ is 4-1 in the past five meetings.
NBA Picks: Celtics vs. Heat Predictions
For Game 1, the Celtics should be able to cover the five points, if not win outright. Rivers does expect Shaq to play at some point in this series but that he will come off the bench. Even at his age, Shaq would make a difference in this series. And it also seems Rondo, after some late-season struggles, has his game in order. Plus there’s the wild card of Wade’s migraines returning. At +170 it’s hard not to take Boston to win the series – the ‘over’ 5.5 games is a lock.
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