|(38-14, 23-5 home)||-- vs. --||(39-14, 19-9 away)|
GAME PREVIEW - PART I (via ESPNBoston.com)
The Boston Celtics awoke Saturday morning to learn they are now No. 2 in the Eastern Conference. They have already beaten the No. 1 team twice this season, but will need to do it again Sunday to regain the top spot in the conference.
Going 3-0 against the Miami Heat? That is a tall order, given the current states of the two teams this Valentine Day's weekend. Miami is rolling (again). The Celtics are injured (again) and stumbling.
The Celtics' 2-0 advantage over Miami this season is wildly misleading because, as we've all come to understand, regular-season matchups are impossible to use as gauges for the long term.
Miami opened the season at Boston after not having had Dwyane Wade (hamstring) for pretty much all of training camp and the exhibition season. It showed. Wade was 4-of-16 from the field in the 88-80 Boston victory. Smug Celtics fans showered the Heat with chants of "overrated." The teams met 16 days later in Miami with the Celtics prevailing 112-107. Miami still was not clicking; it was the Heat's third loss in four games.
Paul Pierce rubbed salt in the Miami wound by saying he had brought his talent to South Beach, playing off LeBron James' famous line on "The Decision."
But oh how things have changed in the past three months.
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GAME PREVIEW - PART II (via Stats Inc.)
When Miami visits Boston on Sunday, it'll be trying to stay atop the Eastern Conference and extend the NBA's longest current winning streak.
And those will be Miami's secondary goals.
To the Heat, what matters most is finding a way to finally beat the reigning East champions. Miami is 0-2 against Boston this season and lost to the Celtics in the first round of last year's playoffs in a largely one-sided series. After that, Boston ousted LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers as well.
"We just want to see where we're at," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. "It's not as big as everyone seems to be making it. But it's not another regular-season game."
No, it isn't -- not with these stakes.
A Boston win would ensure the Celtics clinch the season-series -- and any potential tiebreakers -- with Miami, plus move them back on top of the East standings. Miami moved into the East lead on Friday night by winning in Detroit, improving to 39-14 and a half-game clear of the Celtics.
Another win would mean Miami needs only to beat Indiana on Tuesday or Toronto on Wednesday to head into the All-Star break with the East's best mark.
"We're still trying to get better every day," said James, the two-time reigning NBA MVP who is averaging 26.2 points in his first season with the Heat. "We're taking every practice and every regular-season game like it is the playoffs because we can't afford to lose an opportunity to get better."
The teams haven't met since Nov. 11. Boston won 88-80 at home in the NBA season-opener Oct. 26, then prevailed 112-107 in Miami about two weeks later.
"Now we're sitting on top of the East, going into a hostile place where we did not play well the first game of the year," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We respect who the Boston Celtics are and what they've proven the last 3 1/2 years. So this is what everybody, the fans, the media and everybody out there, this is what they want."
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