With another regular-season accomplishment checked off their laundry list of accolades, the Miami Heat are getting healthy and gearing up for the playoffs.
If the Boston Celtics aren't careful, they just may wind up seeing them pretty often over the next few weeks.
In what's arguably been the Eastern Conference's premier matchup in recent years, the Celtics looks to strengthen their grip on a No. 7 seed -- thus avoiding a first-round postseason trip to South Beach -- when the clubs meet Friday night in Miami.
For all of the game's importance to Boston, the stakes in this one will be considerably lessened from previous meetings, even though the Heat have knocked the Celtics out of the playoffs each season since LeBron James came on board in 2010.
Wade missed six straight games with ankle and knee problems, and his minutes will surely be limited as a result.
"I'm sure my lungs will need that," he said.
James, who sat out four of the past six with a strained right hamstring, and Bosh, out the last three due to flu-like symptoms, could have taken another night off thanks to their team's 103-98 victory at Washington on Wednesday. The Heat (62-16) set a franchise mark for wins and clinched home-court advantage through the NBA finals.
The effort put the finishing touches on a record-setting season that also saw a 27-game win streak.
"We've had an amazing year," Battier said. "We've set a lot of records and we've had a lot of storylines the whole year. Hopefully our best storyline is still ahead of us. That's what we're saving the high-fives for."
Despite the absences of its three stars, Miami hardly missed a beat thanks to its reserves, proving that the Heat have plenty of depth going into the playoffs.
"Most definitely, we would be a playoff team," forward Rashard Lewis said of Miami's bench after he scored 17 against the Wizards. "Probably not a top-three team, but I think anywhere from there we'd be fighting for a playoff spot, just because we've got a lot of veterans on the team, a lot of smart guys on the team that know how to play the game."
The Celtics (40-38) have turned out to be the short-handed squad for this game with the announcement that Pierce and Garnett won't play, adding to the club's predicament.
Boston has a three-game lead over Milwaukee for the seventh seed, but it lost the season series to the Bucks and finishes with three of four on the road.
The Celtics fell 101-93 at home to Brooklyn on Wednesday, continuing an inconsistent season that has seen them alternate wins and losses over their last four games.
"I think we're focusing too much on the playoffs, and that's not here yet," said Garnett, who made his last two starts after missing eight games with a bad left ankle. "I think we need to focus and lock in on these games that we have left and put the energy and effort behind that."
Despite the significant difference in records, the teams have battled in extremely competitive games in 2013 -- both in Boston. Miami won 105-103 on March 18 on a James jumper with 10.5 seconds left, and the Celtics earned a 100-98 victory in two overtimes Jan. 27.
From Elias: Miami is an amazing 26-2 since the All-Star Break, and with at least 3 wins in their final 4 regular-season games, the Heat can clinch the best post-All-Star record in NBA history. We should also mention this year's Nuggets, who are 21-3 since the break and currently hold the 4th-best mark in history (also with 4 games remaining). The 3 teams with the best post-All-Star records prior to this season all went on to make the NBA Finals, with the '84-85 and '99-00 Lakers each winning the title.
Highest Win Pct after All-Star Break - NBA History
>4 games remaining each *Won NBA title that season
With 4 games remaining in the regular season, the Heat have locked up one of the best "second half" records in NBA history. Five previous teams have won at least 84% of their games in the second half of the regular season (their final 41 games or whichever number corresponded to the halfway mark in shorter seasons), with 3 of them going on to win the NBA title that year. The Heat can clinch that 84% mark with at least 1 win in their final 4 games this season.