The Eastern Conference finals feature two teams that were built in much the same way. Both the Heat and the Celtics established a roster of superstars in pursuit of a championship.
The difference is that the Celtics have won a championship, while the Heat are still pursuing a ring in year two of their grand experiment.
These teams are no stranger to each other, playing many hard-fought battles over the past two years. The first game of this series should be no different.
Here are three predictions for how the first game will shake out.
Rajon Rondo will be forced into the closer role again
Paul Pierce is generally considered to be the Celtics star at the point. When the Celtics need a big shot, Pierce will almost certainly be the one to take it.
Against the 76ers, though, Rondo was forced into that role after Pierce fouled out, and Rondo delivered. With 11 of his 18 points coming after Pierce fouled out, Rondo showed that he can take over a game in crunch time.
Against the Heat, he will be asked to do that again in the first game, but this time, it will be by design.
Pierce will have his hands full with LeBron James, and while Pierce will certainly get his chances, Rondo will be the focal point of the offense.
Rondo is already the center of the offense, but he should get a few extra opportunities to score against Mario Chalmers.
Chalmers is an excellent defensive player, but Rondo has the ability to give him trouble, and the Celtics should look to keep Rondo hot throughout the playoffs. That will mean giving him extra opportunities in the first game, and he should be able to at least keep the game close.
LeBron James will dominate
Maybe this isn't a bold prediction, but one can never be sure which LeBron James will show up come playoff time.
One thing working in his favor this year, though, is that he has never been hungrier for a championship. After a 2011 season in which the Heat felt entitled to a championship, they really fought hard in 2012 to ensure that they would have no excuses in June.
This is a different Heat team from last year's group, and this very well could be a different LeBron James.
Clearly, James will get his numbers. Very rarely does James not score well or contribute in other areas of the game.
The Heat should look to get him involved even more against the Celtics, as a confidence-boosting first game could be the difference between a Heat victory in the series and a Heat loss.
Who will be player of the game in Game 1?
That means that James should put up massive numbers. He should be leading the game in scoring and should produce a double-double as well. He could even surprise with a massive performance for the ages. Then again, that wouldn't be that surprising.
Heat win 92-89
The Heat will take an early lead on the strength of James' performance, but the Celtics will linger around and keep the game close.
Kevin Garnett should play a major role in both scoring and rebounding. He's been excellent this postseason, and that should continue. His strong play should be a catalyst for the Celtics to stick around in this one.
Down by a significant margin, Rondo and Pierce will both step up in a big way in the fourth quarter to make the game much closer and even give the Celtics the lead.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, the Heat will be able to regain the lead and hold them off. A pair of free throws should seal the deal for the Heat in a close win, with James being the player of the game.