It’s a big game in South Beach on Thursday night, and not just because the Boston Celtics (25-15) are in town: the Miami Heat are expected to sellout their 400th consecutive.
In the game itself, there’s high stakes involved: Playoff positioning.
Boston comes in below expectations this season, currently sitting in the No. 5 position in the Eastern Conference. Just three months before the NBA Playoffs begin, the Celtics will look to ratchet up the heat (no pun intended) beginning in Miami.
The Heat sit right after Boston in the East in the sixth spot, just five games behind the Celtics in the standings — did I mention this is a big game?
The Miami Heat (19-20) are also in the red now after losing to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night — a tough 103-99 loss at home. Like Boston, the Heat will look to turn up the aggression as well.
Though not a serious championship contender, Miami has had a bright spot in their rotation ever since Dion Waiters returned from ankle surgery, missing the first 35 games of the season. Since Waiters made his return on January 2, he’s averaged 11 points in 17.5 minutes — this in two games off of the bench.
Though happy about Waiters, Miami is still concerned about their All-Star point guard Goran Dragic. He’s been out several weeks now after having knee surgery. Miami will also have to figure out their confusing offense — seven players were in double-digits against the Nuggets on Tuesday, and they still lost.
On Boston’s end, they’re riding a four-game winning streak, and recently got their All-Star Kyrie Irving back from injury — their obvious centerpiece in the middle of a talented roster including players such as Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
As I previously mentioned, Boston will be looking to turn up the heat as the playoffs approach, and signs are pointing to that already happening. On Wednesday, the Celtics put up a blazing 135 points in a blowout win over the Indiana Pacers — their highest-scoring game of the season. It was also the fifth straight game where the Celtics had at least 30 assists.
It should also be mentioned that the Celtics did get off to a slow 7-8 start to kick off the season, they’ve gone 13-5 since December 1. The problem in this game against the Miami Heat, however: They’re on the road. A place where they’re currently 10-10 on, and also remember: Boston is coming off no rest.
Good news for Celtics fans though is that the Heat aren’t the best at home. They currently carry a 9-12 record in Miami, and are a dismal 9-15 when only having a day’s rest.
Injury wise, the Miami Heat are completely healthy other than Dragic being out. No injuries for the Celtics either other than Aron Baynes being out with his left hand.
With both teams coming in with pros, cons and their health for the most part, you know this is going to be a full-out war for NBA Playoffs positioning. Expect the intensity and tension to be high tonight.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
CHECK THE NUMBERS
In the mainstream statistical categories, Boston has the edge in the majority of them. The Celtics have a +6 edge in points-per-game, putting up a 112.5 tally. They also shoot the ball better than Miami, having a +3 edge hitting 46.1 FG%. A very slight defensive edge, it’s not even worth mentioning, but the Celtics have a number of 105.3 PA. Here’s where things will get interesting for Boston, however, and what could cause problems for a victory: Though small, they have a -2 disadvantage in rebounding. That could increase against a Hassan Whiteside. Boston will need to keep that in-check for an entire 48 minutes.
Sitting behind the C’s, the Heat post up a 106.3 PPG in offensive production — this off of a below-average figure of 43.8 FG%. In ball protection, Miami sits right with Boston at 105.7 PA. As I previously mentioned though, even though behind all of the other statistics, the Heat do have a fascinating +2 edge in the rebounding game — Miami sits with 47.2 RPG. Now on the glass, more of the pressure will be on Boston to stop Whiteside, but some pressure will also be on him as well He’ll need to stop players like Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum, even a Gordon Hayward, from stealing boards in the paint. Whiteside does that, and Heat win.
Yes, the Celtics have a lot more firepower than the Heat, but you can expect this to be a tight battle tonight. Hassan Whiteside and the rebounding edge should help to counter Boston’s advantage in the scoring department, but consistent shooting will be needed.
Heat players like Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow will have to shoot consistently tonight in order to keep up with the potency of Boston, especially since it’s looking like they’ve turned things on full-time. If they do that, that will line up things for Whiteside from there. If Whiteside then can contain outside-post players from stealing boards, then Miami should seal the deal for the win.
Here’s the problem though: I don’t see that happening. There’s way too many situations that Miami has to contest with, especially starting with the first one. I don’t see the Heat keeping pace enough with the Celtics at 43.8 FG%. I think the rebounding and home factor keeps Miami close throughout, but Boston gets the win in the end — should be a enjoyable game on national television.