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Dwyane Wade expects to play, but can the Heat bound back vs. Boston?The grind to the regular-season finish line starts Tuesday night for the Boston Celtics (32-24, 12-15 away) when they visit the Miami Heat (40-15, 24-3 home) at AmericanAirlines Arena (7 p.m., ESPN). To preview the matchup, we play a game of 2-on-2 with colleague Greg Payne.
For the Miami perspective, check out the Heat Index's 3-on-3 game preview.
1. What will you be focused on when the Celtics visit the Heat?
Payne: I'm interested in the Celtics' sense of urgency. Sunday's win over Philadelphia practically cemented their playoff position, so I'm worried about a letdown with such a grueling part of the schedule on the horizon. You also have to factor in the Heat's potential performance tonight, as they can't be too happy about the way the last game against Boston went down. You have to think the Heat will come out guns blazing tonight and try to put the C's on their heels from the opening tip. How will Boston respond to that? As well as Boston has played of late, it's important for the Celtics to continue building momentum as they hurtle towards the playoffs, so I'm really looking for them to display that same sense of urgency we've seen in recent weeks.
Forsberg: Here's a handful of things I'll be keying on: 1) Avery Bradley vs. Dwyane Wade, Part II. Wade is expected to play and has plenty of motivation after Bradley's solid defensive effort (including a highlight-reel block in last week's meeting); 2) Rajon Rondo will not only be in the spotlight (a national TV game), but also the crosshairs for Miami. Coming off that dominant triple-double effort, expect the game plan to center around smothering the quarterback; 3) Can the Celtics' second unit continue to thrive to start the second quarter? Boston has gotten a real boost from the reserve unit the last couple games; 4) Which James Jones shows up? He was a non-factor in Boston, but is usually a 3-point pest off the bench (he drained six in a win over Detroit on Sunday); 5) As always with the Heat, the biggest thing is turnovers. Boston absolutely cannot give the ball away or it's going to be a long night.
2. Tuesday's game marks the start of five games in six nights for the Celtics. What's your expectation for the team during this stretch?
Payne: I think we have to have reasonable expectations for this stretch. I think a win in Miami tonight would go a long way towards propelling Boston to a favorable record over this stretch, but I don't think we can all jump ship if they lose tonight and then stumble again tomorrow night against Atlanta, in what is unquestionably a very difficult back-to-back. I'd say a 3-2 mark for these next five games is perfectly reasonable, given the difficult back-to-back over these next two nights and then the dreaded back-to-back-to-back later this week. I don't think we can expect the C's to sweep those final three games, considering Doc Rivers might even rest certain players in certain situations, but they should grab at least two wins, given the level of competition.
Forsberg: So long as the Celtics can maintain a comfortable lead atop the Atlantic Division during this killer stretch, that probably matters more than the overall win-loss record. You want to control your own fate, but if Philadelphia continues to struggle, it will afford the Celtics a larger margin for error (or at least a chance to consider potentially resting veterans when the back-to-back-to-back rolls around later this week). The Celtics have to be careful Tuesday night because the urge is going to be to keep the foot on the gas pedal against a rival like the Heat. But Wednesday's tilt with Atlanta is probably the more important of the two because of potential playoff implications (the Celtics-Hawks currently projects as the 4-5 matchup and, in the case of the teams ending the season with matching records, home-court will be decided by head-to-head tie-breaker). While Doc Rivers said his team is simply focused on the process and not letting the standings dictate how they play, Boston absolutely has to be aware of what's going on around the rest of the league and how it impacts their playoff path.