Celts can stand Heat

Celtics' Paul Pierce passes the ball in front of the Heat's Shane Battier and Dexter Pittman during...

Celtics' Paul Pierce passes the ball in front of the Heat's Shane Battier and Dexter Pittman during a game earlier this season. (REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi)

Ryan Wolstat, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:57 PM ET

Miami, with or without Chris Bosh, will be the heavy favourite no matter who lines up on the other side in the Eastern Conference final.

And that makes sense.

Right?

Well, yes and no.

If Philadelphia gets through, expect a beatdown. But if it’s Boston, the regular season results indicate the battle could be closer than most people think.

The Heat and Celtics met very early and then didn’t hook up again until three April dates. After going 8-for-11 from the field in the opener, Bosh, who has struggled against Kevin Garnett throughout his career, went just 7-for-24 in the other two games he played.

Little can be gleaned from the final matchup of the two teams late in the season as Paul Pierce was the only all-star to suit up. Boston would be hurt by the injury absence of Avery Bradley, who played very well in 2-of-3 contests against Miami.

Here’s how Miami did against Boston and Philadelphia this season:

- Beat Boston at home 115-107 in Game 2 of the season. No Pierce for Celtics, Miami’s Big 3 shot 25-for-40.

- Lost on the road to Boston 91-72 on April 1. Bosh just 2-for-11, Wade just 6-for-17. Now-injured Bradley had big game in place of Ray Allen.

- Lost at home to Boston 115-107 on April 10. Celtics shot 60.6% from field (Garnett went 11-for-14) while Bosh and Wade combined for another dismal 14-for-34 effort.

- Lost on road to Boston 78-66 on April 24th. A battle of the benches with most of the top talent on both side rested.

Miami fared quite a bit better against Philadelphia:

- Won at home 113-92 in January. No Wade, but James and Bosh combined for 58 points as Heat shot 54.3%.

- Won on road 99-79 in February. Philly held under 40% from field while Big 3 controlled game with ease.

- Won on road 84-78 in March. Bad games from Wade and Bosh, but James was great and Philadelphia shot just 35.5%.

- Won at home 99-93 in early April. Philly gets shooting in gear as Evan Turner goes off, but Wade-less Heat get 41 from James.

HAS TO BE SPURS, RIGHT?

The whole world seems to be picking San Antonio over Oklahoma City, some even in a sweep seeing as the Spurs have won 18 in a row.

This corner is sticking with the Miami-Oklahoma City prediction from the end of the lockout.

Granted that Gregg Popovich against Scott Brooks is a mismatch and that the Spurs have more poise, experience and depth than anybody, we could be horribly wrong.

But, while Tim Duncan is defying Father Time and Tony Parker’s been fantastic, Kevin Durant is still the best player in that series — by a considerable margin — and you can’t convince me rookie Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, aging Stephen Jackson or rotund big man Boris Diaw are going to stop him.

If Parker and Russell Westbrook play to a draw and Duncan and Manu Ginobili do their thing, Durant and James Harden still should be able to make up the difference.

KA-CHING

Some players are about to earn big paydays thanks to inspired — and timely — playoff performances.

Greybeards Garnett and Duncan lead the way. They might no longer be MVP calibre, but both big men are still of all-NBA third team quality. While they won’t make $21 million U.S. again going forward, their fine play means they still will get formidable new deals.

On the restricted free agency front, Indiana’s Roy Hibbert has earned himself a massive raise. He is due a $4.3 million qualifying offer, but Indiana surely will ink the centre to a long-term deal for at least twice that amount per season.

They can also qualify guard George Hill for $2.2 million or sign him long-term as well. Hill started at the point for surprising Indiana, though Darren Collison should get his job back next year.

Philadelphia forward Lavoy Allen has been a rock, greatly improving his regular season numbers.

San Antonio will have to show RFA Danny Green the money since he’s emerged as a starter who can contribute at both ends of the floor. Green made just $854,389 this season.

Spurs’ UFA Diaw, picked up for peanuts, merely leads all playoff performers in offensive rating (points per 100 possessions).

AROUND THE RIM

In the absence of Bosh, Montreal’s Joel Anthony has been terrific. He has been a rugged interior defender challenging shots at the rim, been superb on the boards and has largely been converting the few offensive opportunities that have come his way ... NBA-worst Charlotte interviewed long-time Utah Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan on Friday. Sloan, 70, spent 23 years in Utah before resigning in February, 2011. Nate McMillan, Mike Malone and Patrick Ewing have been reported as strong candidates to get the job and Sloan might not be the man to lead one of the NBA’s youngest groups ... Two Magic sources denied a report that the team has already decided to trade Dwight Howard, but it’s hard to see him sticking around there unless he signs a contract extension ... The Los Angeles Clippers must decide by June 1 whether to pick up head coach Vinnie Del Negro’s option. While most expect a change to be made, with Donald Sterling in charge, anything is possible ... New York guard J.R. Smith was arrested on a bench warrant in Miami for not having a valid driver’s license.


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