BOSTON - FEBRUARY 13: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat and Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics take a breather at TD Garden on February 13 2011 in Boston Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that by downloading and/or using this Photograph user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jim Rogash/ Getty Images)

Heat Vs. Celtics: Highly Anticipated Series To Begin Sunday In Miami

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Miami Heat Struggled Against Boston Celtics In Regular Season, But Does It Matter?

The Boston Celtics famously had success against the new-fangled Miami Heat in the season series between the two teams, who will re-engage for a second-round NBA Playoffs series on Sunday. The Celtics kicked off the regular season with a damning win, a 88-80 victory in which Chris Bosh was bullied to just eight points on 3-11 shooting and Dwyane Wade was held to 4-16 shooting. Essentially, the Celtics looked at Miami's incredible arsenal, corked it and laughed in triumph.

The teams met back up in Miami two weeks later; the result was similar, though each offense picked up. Boston won 112-107, with LeBron James again breaking the 30-point barrier but with Wade again struggling (2-12 shooting). After the game, Paul Pierce famously tweeted a crack mocking LeBron's "taking my talents to South Beach" line. The teams met against Feb. 13 in Boston with first place in the East on the line. The Celtics won 85-82. Dominance was so established.

The teams did meet again in April, with the No. 2 seed and home court advantage in this very series on the line. Miami blew the doors off, winning by 23. Boston immediately conceded the No. 2 position, resting some of his starters for the final week of the season. That loss now comes home to roost, with the Heat playing the tone-setting first two games of the series at home.

There's little evidence teams who win season series do better in the playoffs once you account for quality. As Mike Prada wrote Friday, Wade's struggles against Boston are the real issue to worry about; Bosh seemed to crack the Celtics' defense in the last two games of the season series (a team-high 24 in February, 13 on 5-8 shooting in April), and LeBron has racked up big totals all season. On the other end, Rajon Rondo stands the biggest chance of causing real problems for the Heat defense, but in the regular season series, he averaged just 7.5 points on 37 percent shooting with 12 assists per game.

Once this series begins, it'll take on a life of its own, and it seems we'll be able to forget all about the four regular season games between the teams.

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LeBron James' Success Against Paul Pierce Key For Miami Heat Win Over Boston Celtics

LeBron James is the most important player in any game he plays ever, simply because he has more talent and ability to dominate than any other player in the NBA -- Dwight Howard, Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant ... anybody. James doesn't end up as every game's most valuable player when it's all said and done, but in the lead-up, before the tip, he is the key. It'll be no different as the Miami Heat face the Boston Celtics in the second round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs.

Tom Haberstroh and the Stats and Info crew at ESPN looked at every last one of LeBron's 277 offensive possessions against the Celtics this season. As it turns out, Paul Pierce is the key to stopping James.

Pierce checked LeBron 69 percent of the time, with Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green and Marquis Daniels (no longer with the team) filling in the rest. But against Pierce, LeBron shot just 43 percent from the field and his efficiency plummeted to depths rarely seen from him. In fact, LeBron scored 75 points per 100 possessions with Pierce covering him, down from his 93 points per 100 possessions when guarded by all other Celtics defenders.

There's a flip side, of course; LeBron is one of the best wing defenders alive, and Pierce's own efficiency plummets when playing against James according to StatsCube. This season, Pierce shared the court with LeBron for 137 minutes. In those minutes, he averaged 12.9 points per 36 minutes on 42 percent shooting. For the season as a whole, Pierce averaged 19.6 points per 36 while shooting 50 percent.

There are a slew of great matchups in this season, but none more important than LeBron vs. Pierce.

Check out our Heat vs. Celtics hub for full series coverage.

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Heat Vs. Celtics: Boston Confident Shaquille O'Neal Will Play

The Shaquille O'Neal injury has kept Celtics fans tossing and turning for much of the past month, but with the Heat and Celtics series looming, it sounds like there might be light at the end of the tunnel. On Friday, Doc Rivers was asked about Shaq's health, and he was cautiously optimistic.

From Comcast Sports Net New England:

“He just did a little bit yesterday,” Rivers said of O’Neal’s involvement in Thursday’s session. “Maybe (he’ll do) some more today, and really, that’s the only update that I have. There’s no decision made or anything.

“I’m more confident now that he will play in the series,” Rivers said. “Maybe  (game) one, maybe two but I do think he’ll play. I guess he’s done some stuff with (trainer) Eddie (Lacerte). Eddie’s more confident that he’ll play so that makes me more confident.”

There are no guarantees there, obviously, but so much of Boston's destiny tied to Shaq's to health, it has to be encouraging that Doc's confidence is growing. Shaq may not play in Game 1, but if he makes it back in time for Game 2, Boston will be breathing a sigh of relief.

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Miami Heat Starting Lineup Will Stay Same Vs. Celtics Despite Struggles In First Round

The Miami Heat starting lineup will remain the same against the Boston Celtics in the second round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs, coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters Friday, despite the Heat's starting five struggling mightily against the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round. Per StatsCube, the Heat's lineup of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Mike Bibby and Zydrunas Ilgauskas had a truly atrocious efficiency differential of -35 points per 100 possessions against Philly, an almost unspeakable failure. The Heat were +10 in total.

The other option would seem to be the lineup Spoelstra used to start the second half of Miami's clinching Game 5 against the Sixers, which substitutes Joel Anthony for Ilgauskas and Mario Chalmers for Bibby. That linup had an efficiency differential of +42 in the Philadelphia series.

But the Celtics play very different than the Sixers, and Spoelstra is relying on finesse in place of energy and speed. That said, per StatsCube the Celtics' offense scored 89.7 points per 100 possessions with Anthony on the floor this season in the teams' four matchups, and 107 when he sat. Ilgauskas' presence didn't affect the Heat's defense in the regular season against Boston, according to the numbers, but the Miami offense did perform much better (110, vs. 97) with Z in the game. The Celtics' defense finished No. 2 in the league this season, so Spoelstra could be looking for a bigger offensive spark instead of defensive range.

For full series coverage, follow our Heat vs. Celtics hub.

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Glen Davis Insists That Boston Celtics' Bench Deeper Than That Of Miami Heat

Back on Wednesday, Glen Davis told the media that he believes that the Boston Celtics' bench is "way stronger" than that of the Miami Heat, the team's second round 2011 NBA Playoffs opponent. Not only is it an ultimately fair assessment of the situation, but Davis is really the major reason why Boston's bench is better.

Both teams' backcourt depth stinks; the Celtics have the solid Delonte West but no one else who could conceivably be relied upon in a tight playoff series. The Heat have Mike Miller, who has been a major disappointment, and Mario Chalmers, who is uneven and needs to be hitting his deep shots to contribute anything. On the wings Boston has Jeff Green (no comment), and Miami counters with James Jones and Miller.

But the frontcourt is where Boston takes the advantage, with Davis perhaps the best back-up big man in the league not named Lamar Odom. Miami has Joel Anthony, a defender and shotblocker, but Davis' impact is likely greater in total thanks to his defensive rebounding. (For all of Anthony's energy, he's an atrocious rebounder for the position. Davis isn't great, but is better.)

The one man who could swing the bench battle isn't Shaquille O'Neal, who looks unlikely to big a major factor in the series. It's Udonis Haslem, Shaq's old Miami enforcer. Haslem was one of the more important pieces of the Heat's 2006 championship, and could be back for this series after missing the regular season. Davis could find himself having trouble scoring if Haslem is assigned to watch him.

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NBA Playoffs: Dwayne Wade Must Solve Struggles Against Celtics For Heat To Win

All the attention will be on LeBron James, but the bottom line for the Heat is that their other superstar needs to step it up and dramatically improve his regular-season performance against the Celtics for the Heat to have a chance.

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Projection Considers Miami Heat Substantial Favorite Over Boston Celtics

While we wait for Las Vegas to weigh in on the Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics series -- and as we process the results of Miami Beat vs. Boston Celery -- we can look to a projection of how the series will go based on regular season performance.

The log5 projection system, popularized by Bill James in baseball and Dean Oliver in NBA circles, uses teams' Pythagorean winning percentage to determine win probability on a game-by-game basis. We can extrapolate that out for a series by figuring for all of the potential outcomes of each game. Pythagorean winning percentages relies on total points scored and total points allowed, which has been relied upon as the best measures of postseason success.

Here's what the log5 projection says about Heat vs. Celtics.

Mia-bos-log5_medium

According to log5, the Heat have a 64 percent probability of winning the series, with the most likely outcome being Heat in seven. The Heat actually claim the three most likely scenarios, with a nearly 20-percent probability of winning in five, which would be a shocking outcome given the popular sentiment.

Pythagorean winning percentage doesn't take into account specific matchups, and it's worth noting that the log5 system made the Orlando Magic heavy, heavy favorites over the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks knocked out the Magic 4-2 on Thursday.

Be sure to follow our Heat vs. Celtics hub for full series coverage.

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Shaquille O'Neal Not Ready To Play Against Miami Heat After Missing Celtics' First Playoffs Series

Shaquille O'Neal has played five minutes of basketball since February, so forgive Boston Celtics' fans for being skeptical that The Big Inactive could be ready to bang against the Miami Heat in the second round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs. But speaking to WEEI in Boston, Celtics president Danny Ainge said that while Shaq isn't ready just yet, the team is hopeful he can hit the floor against Miami.

"We're still hopeful that he'll be ready to play but it's just taking longer to heal, or taking a while to heal. Shaq was determined to play Game 1 of the first playoff series and it's just not been that way. He could probably go out and something but I'm not sure he could help much."

Ainge followed up to say that Shaq couldn't give 12 minutes of productive play right now, which is pretty telling, given that 12 minutes is a pretty low minutes total. Whether Shaq will be needed is questionable, given Miami's lack of a scoring center and the presence of defensive-minded Jermaine O'Neal. The C's do lack scoring at center, and Shaq remains efficient in short spurts. But this battle between the Celtics and Heat will not be won or lost on account of Shaq.

For more on the Celtics, visit CelticsBlog and SB Nation Boston.

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Boston Celtics' Schedule Allows For Rest Before Miami Heat Series, But Does It Matter?

The Boston Celtics finished their first-round 2011 NBA Playoffs series against the New York Knicks on Sunday, sweeping through in four games. For an aging team with three stars -- Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen -- well into their 30s, the rest seems like a real boon. On the flip side, some argue that rust, or too much time away from five-on-five, full-tilt competition could hurt the Celtics in Game 1 against the Miami Heat, scheduled for Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

As it turns out, Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus has actually delved into the rest vs. rust matter, back in 2009 in advance of a Magic-Cavaliers Eastern Conference Finals series in which Cleveland had swept through the first two rounds while Orlando went to six and seven games in the first and second rounds.

Pelton's finding? Rest has a pretty small but positive impact.

Doing this shows rest as having some value, but not much; a regression analysis cannot conclusively determine that there is a positive value to having played fewer games the previous round, and suggests that each additional game of rest is worth about 0.2 wins during the following series.

The biggest impact actually shows up for underdogs who are substantially -- two or three games -- more well-rested than their favored opponents. The Celtics certainly aren't the underdogs against Miami, and the Heat only had to play one extra game in the first round, eliminating the 76ers on Wednesday.

Hat-tip to Zach Lowe for the reminder on Pelton's study.

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Heat Vs. Celtics Schedule, NBA Playoffs 2011: Highly Anticipated Series To Begin Sunday In Miami

The Boston Celtics and Miami Heat will meet in the second round of the East bracket of the 2011 NBA Playoffs in perhaps the most highly anticipated conference semifinals in modern NBA history. The Celtics have made the NBA Finals in two of the past three seasons, winning the title in 2008. The Heat, who added two-time reigning MVP LeBron James and perennial All-Star Chris Bosh to 2006 Finals MVP Dwayne Wade in the offseason, have been the league's most discussed, written-about and watched team this season, boasting record ratings during their national TV games.

The series will tip off on Sunday on ABC. Here's the full schedule, with all times Eastern:

Game 1: Sun., May 1 in Miami, 3:30 p.m., ABC
Game 2: Tue., May 3 in Miami, Time TBD, TNT
Game 3: Sat., May 7 in Boston, 8:00 p.m., ABC
Game 4: Mon., May 9 in Boston, Time TBD, TNT
Game 5: Wed., May 11 in Miami, Time TBD, TNT
Game 6: Fri., May 13 in Boston, Time TBD, ESPN
Game 7: Mon., May 16 in Miami, 8:00 p.m., TNT

Be sure to follow our Heat vs. Celtics hub for full series coverage. For more on the Heat, visit Peninsula Is Mightier. For more on the Celtics, visit CelticsBlog and SB Nation Boston.

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