After the Miami Heat raise their second championship banner to the rafters of American Airlines Arena tonight, a basketball game will commence that pits arguably the top two teams in the Eastern Conference against one another.
No matter what anyone says, this is not a normal regular season game.
Let's be honest: both the Celtics and the Heat will be in the playoffs by the end of the year, plain and simple. Unless injuries ravage both squads, chances are that they'll meet up in the postseason. That's why the match-up tonight is so important.
The Heat will be favored throughout the year, but if Boston can steal one on opening night, it could go a long way toward deciding an eventual champion. All the Celtics need to do is plant a seed of doubt in the minds of the confident Heat, and we could be in a dogfight come March.
Another reason why this game is very important is because it will be an excellent chance for both teams to see how well their new pieces fit in their game plans.
In Miami, the new acquisitions include former Celtic Ray Allen and former Wizard Rashard Lewis. These two players will be critical to Miami's chances because the only issue the Heat had last year was depth. It would have been tough to depend on Mario Chalmers and Shane Battier to come through again in the playoffs. Allen and Lewis bring experience and scoring, and both should benefit greatly from the drive-and-kick offense that runs through LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
Who will win tonight's match-up?
In Boston, Jason Terry will add an explosive scorer off the bench and finally give the Celtics a viable player to spell Rajon Rondo when their star point guard needs a rest. Terry can also play shooting guard, giving the Celts added versatility. Jeff Green makes his inspirational return following heart surgery that cost him the entire 2011-2012 season. His presence adds youth and physicality that will be important when Boston needs to play tough with the Heat.
The game between the Heat and the Celtics tonight means next to nothing in terms of numbers. It's a single game in the standings that won't do anything to decide which team will make the playoffs.
But in the grand scheme of things, the animosity between these two Eastern Conference powers will create an intense game environment that will go miles towards deciding whether the Heat or the Celtics can take the next step and win the conference in June. Buckle up, it's going to be a wild ride.