at American Airlines Arena, Miami, Fla., 3:30 p.m. | ABC, WEEI (850 AM)
PAYNE'S THREE THINGS TO WATCH
Sense of Urgency: The Celtics squared off against the Chicago Bulls last Thursday in a marquee game with potential playoff implications, and, to say the least, Boston came away disappointed with its effort. The C's suffered a 97-81 defeat and were thoroughly outplayed on both sides of the ball in the process. But with the winner of Sunday's tilt emerging as the favorite for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and home-court advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs, will Boston play like a team that's hungry for another deep postseason run? When asked about his expectations for today's game after Friday's 104-88 win over the Washington Wizards, Paul Pierce had this to say: "I know we'll be ready. I just know we'll be ready. A lot more ready than we were in Chicago."
Defending Wade: LeBron James and Chris Bosh have fared well against the Celtics in the teams' three previous meetings this season, but the same cannot be said for Dwyane Wade. Wade's averaged just 12.3 points against the Celtics this season (he's averaging 25.8 points per game -- good for third overall in the NBA) on 26.7 percent shooting from the field, 20 percent from 3-point nation, and 64.7 percent from the free throw line. Perhaps most concerning for Heat fans has been the fact that Wade's averaged six turnovers in the three games against the Celtics. Boston might hold a slight advantage Sunday, as Wade's currently battling a sore right thigh that kept him out of the Heat's 90-85 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks last Wednesday.
First Impressions: The Celtics are 3-0 against the Heat this season, but all three victories came before Boston traded Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. Boston's identity has shifted since the last time these two clubs took the floor, and Sunday will mark a series of firsts for the new-look Celtics. How well will Jeff Green defend LeBron James? Green spoke recently about his need to improve on defense and lending a hand in trying to contain James could go a long way towards his defensive reputation. Meanwhile, will the likes of Jermaine O'Neal, Nenad Krstic, and (potentially) Troy Murphy be enough inside today? In the three previous meetings with Miami, the C's had the services of either Shaquille O'Neal or Kendrick Perkins in the paint on defense, but neither luxury will be available for today's game.
GAME PREVIEW (via AP)
Boston, 55-24. Miami, 55-24. Tied for the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference, one team will take a stranglehold on the race for home-court through at least the first two playoff rounds on Sunday when the Celtics and Heat meet in Miami. Boston is 3-0 in the season-series between the clubs, and has won 18 of its last 20 games against the Heat since April 2007.
But if Miami finds a way on Sunday, that Celtic dominance may be temporarily forgotten.
"Let's toss the ball up and play," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Saturday. "We think we're a different team than the last three times we've played them, but until we prove it in between the lines, it doesn't matter."
The Heat are understandably thrilled that Game 4 of the regular-season series is in Miami. That won't be the case if Game 4 of a potential Heat-Celtics postseason series is also in Miami.
The No. 1 seed in the East has been locked up by the Chicago Bulls, and in some order, seeds 2 and 3 will go to Miami and Boston. So that means the Heat and Celtics will be slotted to meet in the East semifinals -- where Games 1, 2, 5 and 7 would be hosted by the higher seed.
Read the full preview HERE.