With the season dwindling down and the Miami Heat destined for the No. 5 spot after the Milwaukee Bucks sustained a blow by losing Andrew Bogut for the season and the postseason, the Heat now see themselves in prime position to face the Boston Celtics.
This is going to be harder than it looks.
Currently, the Celtics and Atlanta Hawks are fighting it out for the third spot with the Hawks out front by a game and five games left with road games against Detroit, Washington, and Milwaukee, and home games against Toronto and Cleveland.
The Celtics face Toronto, Milwaukee, and Chicago on the road, with Washington and Milwaukee at home. For the sake of the article, we'll say that Atlanta holds onto the third spot.
This is quite the problem for the Heat, considering they were 3-1 against the Hawks in the regular season and 0-3 against the Celtics. Each Celtics loss stung more than the last one. Boston took both games at the American Airlines Arena, 92-85 and 112-106 in overtime in one of the more heartbreaking losses, and also 107-102 in Boston.
Three losses by a combined 18 points. It hurts to know that not only could the Heat have gone at least 2-1 against Boston, but that they instead went 0-3.
The Heat have been on a hot stretch, winning their past eight games of late thanks to an easy schedule. Miami has the capability to end the season on a 13-game win streak with Philadelphia, Detroit, and New Jersey at home and New York and Philadelphia on the road.
The schedule could damper the Heat's chances for a first-round postseason win due to the fact that they haven't faced a quality opponent since March 26, when they won at Milwaukee. They also have not played an elite team since March 18, when they lost at home to Orlando.
Nonetheless,, the Heat are going to have to play a good team in the playoffs and will most likely have to face the Celtics.
So how can the Heat beat the Celtics?
Very simply actually...it just depends if they want to. Take a look at the matchups.
Point guard: Rajon Rondo vs. Carlos Arroyo
This is a pretty one-sided competition considering Rondo has turned into one of the premiere point guards in the league, while Arroyo pretty much won the position by default. Rondo is best known by the Heat faithful for a lay-up alley-oop with 0.6 seconds left after Wade made a miraculous play to give the Heat the lead.
Rondo had 13 points and 11 assists in the first game, 25 points and eight assists in the second, and 22 points and 14 assists in the final meeting. It is obvious Rondo has had no trouble in beating the Heat's point guards this season to the hole, and has been able to do whatever he wants when it comes to playing offense.
Arroyo is one of the best point guards in the game when it comes to dishing out assists and limiting turnovers, and is in the top-five in assist-to-turnover-ratio. It's nice to limit turnovers and to be feeding Dwyane Wade without mistakes, but Arroyo is going to have to be huge defensively if the Heat have a chance of getting past the first round.
Shooting guard: Ray Allen vs. Dwyane Wade
If there's something we know about the matchups between the Heat and the Celtics, it's that Ray Allen can simply not guard Dwyane Wade at all. Wade averaged 34 points per game, including a season-high 44 points, against the Celtics. There's no doubt that Wade can beat Allen off the dribble at any given moment and if his jump shot is on(which it has been) then Wade should have no problem averaging at least 30 in this series.
Allen is, of course, the crafty veteran who has no trouble in sinking a couple of three-pointers when it matters most. Wade is, of course, the crafty defender who had a near game-winning steal on Allen in the second game between the Celtics and Heat when Allen was robbed by Wade at half court. The problem for Wade, though, is that he tends to take a lot of risks on defense and would go for a steal rather than play hard-nosed defense on Allen.
Wade should go off in the series between the two teams and if Wade can play quality defense on Allen, it only helps the team when Ray isn't hitting three or four three-pointers in a game.
Small Forward: Paul Pierce vs. Quentin Richardson(X-Factor matchup)
When Quentin Richardson's three-point shot is on, it's really on. If you recall in a tight game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Richardson hit seven three-pointers including the one that sent the game into overtime and eventually a Heat win, so there is no doubt that Quentin is up for the challenge of taking on an elite team. Q-Rich was present for two of the games against Boston and struggled, going 3-for-10 and averaging eight points.
Paul Pierce has been known to go off against many teams in the league. But against the Heat, he has not given reason to why people call him "The Truth." Pierce has also missed one of the games and struggled in two, netting 15 points on 4-of-11 shooting in the first game and 17 points on 4-of-12 shooting in the second. Pierce and Richardson only met in the second game.
Richardson is a specialist in three-point shooting and defending, but can he hold Paul Pierce and keep him under 20? Quentin is going to need to be on his game in the series and hit his three-pointers. Wade can get Richardson open at any given moment, it's up to Quentin if he can finish the deal.
Power Forward: Kevin Garnett vs. Michael Beasley
Michael, Michael, Michael, where would we be without you? I don't honestly know, but Kevin Garnett is still really good and it showed in the two games he played with Beasley defending him. K.G. had 24 points on 11-of-12 shooting in the first matchup and 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting in the third, with Beasley playing the best defense he could.
The problem is that Beasley's best defense isn't superb. He has the constant trouble of looking lost and leaving his opponent open for easy jump shots, while getting in foul trouble if playing too hard. Beasley handled Garnett well on offense, hitting 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting and 13 points on 3-of -7 shooting. In the second matchup where Rasheed Wallace filled in, Beasley didn't know what to do, and saw himself getting run up and down the floor by Wallace.
If Garnett is healthy, then he's going to destroy Beasley. If Garnett is somewhat healthy, then he's going to only beat up Beasley. Michael is going to have to learn to play defense and drive if he wants to win this matchup, but at this moment in time, Garnett is way too much for Michael.
Center: Kendrick Perkins vs. Jermaine O'Neal
For some reason, Kendrick Perkins has had Jermaine's number on the offensive side. Perkins went 14 and 13 in the first game, 20 and 10 in the second, and 13 and 5 in the final game. This poses as a huge problem for the Heat, considering it's a shocker to see Perkins over 15 points. The 20 points was one off of his season high when he scored 21 against Charlotte.
O'Neal has been solid with games of 14 and 10, 14 and 8, 10 and 4 with Perkins seemingly winning each matchup on both sides of the court. His size has posed as a problem to O'Neal, who has beat him scoring and rebounding, but O'Neal has the jump shot and speed to beat Perkins to the rim every time.
O'Neal's age has caught up with him, but he's had a resurgence over the year with 14 points per game on a career-high 54 percent shooting and seven rebounds. If O'Neal's jump shot is on and if he can find way's to shut down Perkins, then it eliminates unnecessary points that are going to be given up if Kendrick scores.
Aside from Udonis Haslem and occasionally Dorell Wright, the Heat's bench is pretty sub-par. Haslem is huge off the bench and is second in double-double's off the bench, while giving up the starting power forward position that he was accustomed to for the past six years to Beasley. Wright has become a three-point threat over the season and has hit 50 this year after hitting 12 in the previous six years of his career.
Mario Chalmers has the range and explosive ability to be an offensive threat. But his inability to guard on the ball and to take ridiculous shots is the reason why he is on the bench in the first place, after starting all 82 games as a rookie last year. Backup center Joel Anthony, has turned into one of the top shot blockers in the league averaging 1.3 per game all off the bench.
The Celtics bench has been one of the strongest in the NBA and it remains strong with Rasheed Wallace, Nate Robinson, and Michael Finley as recent acquisitions that have brought positive impacts for the team with each one being very dangerous from beyond the arc. As many Heat fans know, the Heat have a strong problem when it comes to guarding three-pointers sometimes.
Miami is going to need Dorell Wright and Mario Chalmers to really step up on offense to keep up with the Celtics bench three-point shooting. If they fail to do that, then we might see James Jones and Daequon Cook get their chance to step up from beyond the arc.
Overall, this would be a very interesting series for both teams. The Celtics have played .500 ball since the all-star break, but have had the Heat's number throughout the year. This has especially been true in crunch time, where Boston always finds someone to step up and the Heat are left staring at Dwyane Wade, waiting for him to work his magic.
It's going to take more than Wade to beat Boston, all you need to look at are the game's from earlier this year.