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When I say that this is a different Heat team, I'm not only referring to the team's play and the way that their chemistry has improved since they last played the Celtics, but also their personnel, which puts them in a better position to challenge Boston now than they were before.
Let me offer a few examples:
- In the first two meetings with Boston, the starting center was Joel Anthony. Now, I personally like what Anthony has meant to this team on the defensive end, but as a starter he just didn't work out. The Celtics defense was not worried about him or Carlos Arroyo on offense and were able to trap a double onto Wade and Bosh with much success.
However, with Zydrunas Ilgauskas in the starting lineup, the Heat have a big body on the floor that the Celtics must respect offensively. His jumpshot will spread the floor and create driving lanes for Wade and LeBron.
You doubt it? In both games when the Heat battled back and made their big runs, it was with Big Z on the court. The Heat outscored the Celtics by 17 in the first game with Z on the court and were outscored by one with Anthony on the court.
- A healthy Mario Chalmers is another difference. Is Chalmers as good as Rondo? Of course not. But before he was able to play heavy minutes again, it was Eddie House guarding Rondo in each of the first two meetings. Not surprisingly, the matchup didn't quite work out for the Heat as Rondo went wild. Chalmers is a better defender and playmaker than House and will make Rondo actually have to guard someone in the game.
- Wade and LeBron are playing well together, unlike the first two meetings.
- Speaking of which, Wade did not play well at all in November, as he was still trying to recover from his preseason hamstring injury. Since December, he has been a completely different player, one that Boston's defense may have a few more troubles with in future meetings.
How much of the Heat's struggles against the Celtics signified the dominance of the Celtics and how much was caused by the Heat's poor play? Granted, the Celtics' defense certainly had a hand in the Heat's struggles, but the Heat didn't help their cause by not moving the ball, blowing defensive assignments, getting nothing from Wade or Bosh, and running their transition to put pressure on the Celtics' defense.
Even the staunchest Celtics supporter has to acknowledge that the Heat are playing much better now than during these first two meetings.