Ah, the dreaded “trap” game after a long road trip.
The Miami Heat (29-12) return home after dropping four out of the six-game stretch, including last night’s 121-114 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. They will be immediately challenged by the tough, rebuilding Boston Celtics (14-28). The perils of returning after a road trip are well-known in NBA circles as teams often struggle to adjust to life back on the home court. The Heat were victims earlier this year, falling to the Golden State Warriors in December after a four-game trip on the West Coast.
Boston is certainly not at the level of Golden State, but the Celtics faithful are definitely encouraged by the return of All-Star Rajon Rondo, back after tearing knee ligaments nearly a year ago. In two games since Rondo was back in the starting lineup, Boston has lost two close games by a total of five points. It’s a sure bet that the Celtics emotional leader will have this team fired up to take on the NBA champions.
Boston’s scoring leader is Jeff Green (15.8 points per game), who nailed a game-winning, fade-away three-pointer as time expired when the two teams last met. Green always rises to the occasion when facing Miami; look for him to shoot early and often. Avery Bradley (14.8 PPG) and Jared Sullinger (13 PPG and 7.8 rebounds per game) will help Boston keep pace with the Heat.
Miami might also be distracted by the return of Joel Anthony, the long-time Heat player known as “The Warden” for his ability to lock down players defensively. Anthony was sent to the Celtics in a cost-cutting move to free up salary cap space that also netted Toney Douglas, a journeyman guard, from the Warriors. Several Heat players were visibly stunned by the trade, as summed up by LeBron James, “It’s tough to see a brother go.”
If Miami can get past the emotional doldrums and physical exhaustion, they’ll need to employ a defensive intensity which has eluded them in recent weeks.
Tip-off will take place Tuesday at 7:30 P.M. at the American Airlines Arena. Check back with AllUCanHeat for a recap after the game.
The Big Three Questions for the Game:
Is This Matchup Still a Rivalry?
Not in the truest sense. The team that repeatedly met Miami in the playoffs and ended LeBron’s tenure in Cleveland is long-gone. But there are still pieces there (notably Rondo and Green) from Boston’s “salad days” and they’ll keep those old fires burning. And it speaks volumes that following the Celtics 111-110 win over Miami in November – a game Boston was clearly geared up for – they went on to lose eight of their next 12 games. It might not have the same intensity as years past, but there’s still enough shared animosity between the two squads to make this a potentially chippy game. After all, as Rondo told reporters yesterday, “It’s not a rivalry but I still don’t like those guys.”
Does Rondo’s Return Guarantee a Playoff Spot for the Celtics?
No. Rondo might be a brilliant passer and facilitator, but you still have to have someone to pass to. And despite his allure to Celtics fans, Rondo himself might be dealt over the coming weeks. This team is rebuilding and stockpiling draft picks, positioning themselves for future success. Although they are only four games out of the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference (ironically held by the Brooklyn Nets and half of last season’s Celtics’ starting lineup), Boston has to hope more-talented teams like Cleveland, New York and Charlotte slip as the season unwinds.
What Kind of Reception Will “The Warden” Receive?
Hopefully, a well-deserved positive one. The Heat front office has reportedly been putting together a video tribute to Joel Anthony ever since the trade took place last week. During six-and-a-half years in Miami, Joel did everything the team asked of him and he made the most of his limited offensive abilities. His steady rebounding, blocked shots, and defense as well as his sturdy screens, were valuable components of the Heat’s winning ways. He may not have made headlines or filled the stat sheet, but Heat fans should definitely recognize the quiet mark he left on the organization.