About the only advantage the Boston Celtics have over the Miami Heat comes in the form of sentiment, a feeling of nostalgia given the uncertain future of the Big 3.
It's of little consolation for fans of the fabled club because only an upset of epic playoff proportions will deny Miami its second consecutive trip to the NBA final.
Barring some injury to either LeBron James or Dwyane Wade, the Heat will have a chance to atone for last year's failure to Dallas, only this time it won't have the luxury of home court.
Whether it's San Antonio or Oklahoma City, the team that emerges from the West will be favoured when basketball's biggest stakes are up for grabs, even in the presence of two of the game's biggest stars in James and Wade.
In Boston, the Heat faces a team that relies so much on Rajon Rondo, who is expected to get plenty of James in the fourth quarter, much like Derrick Rose had to endure in last year's Eastern final, which would end in five games.
Kevin Garnett has certainly stepped up this post-season, silencing critics by making clutch shots and decisive stops.
For Garnett to have an impact on the Heat, he simply must operate in the post, an area he's more than capable of dominating, but one he has a nasty habit of avoiding because of his perimeter game.
When the Heat looked vulnerable and appeared to be coming apart at the seams against Indiana, it was the Pacers' post game that would expose Miami.
The Celtics have too much pride and are too playoff-tested, and no doubt they will give their best, but even Boston's best won't be enough against the Heat.
Had Ray Allen been healthy and not forced to deal with bone spurs in his ankle, a setback that clearly limits his movement away from the ball, the East final, which tips off in South Beach on Monday, could have been one for the ages.
Had Boston had the size it featured last year when Jermaine O'Neal and Shaquille O'Neal showed flashes of being serviceable, this series had the potential to go the distance.
It has been said before, but it bears repeating that playoff basketball is all about matchups.
Simply put, Boston does not match up well against the Miami unit.
There's the inherent rivalry pitting two teams that met in last spring's semifinal, a series Miami would win in five games after Rondo dislocated his left elbow in Boston's Game 3 win.
There will be some to bring up James' personal baggage when facing Boston, but he's playing at too high a level for any defender, whether it's Paul Pierce or Michael Pietrus, whom James battled in 2009 when Cleveland and Orlando squared off in the East final.
At the end of the day, talent prevails and in James and Wade there's no one on Boston's roster capable of matching up.
Ironically, it took the scars of being down 2-1 to the Pacers and Chris Bosh's abdominal injury for Wade and James to finally begin to play off each other.
The result has been high-level basketball not seen in recent memory from a one-two punch, a combo so lethal that no defensive scheme is capable of stopping.
In three games, James and Wade led Miami to three straight wins, playing multiple positions when Miami was forced to go small, displaying a flair and versatility on offence that was sublime.
In three games, James would average 32.7 points on 55% shooting, while dishing off 8.0 assists.
In three wins, Wade averaged 33.0 points, while shooting 62%.
In the Celtics, James and Wade won't be forced to deal with the length and athleticism Indiana provided on the perimeter.
With no shot blocker, it'll be up to head coach Doc Rivers to devise a system that denies penetration, one area to watch that will ultimately prove to be the difference.
"Let's do it," Garnett said in the immediate aftermath of Boston's Game 7 win over Philly.
He was looking ahead to the Heat, a team Boston simply can't beat.
There's not enough offence and not enough options to stop James and Wade.
On paper, Heat vs. Celtics is as appealing as any, but when you look at Boston's flaws and how dominant James and Wade have been, it's a mismatch.
Once it's over, and it could be in as few as five games, the future of Boston's Big 3 in Beantown -- Pierce, Garnett and Allen -- becomes the focus.
As long as Miami doesn't lose its focus, it's just a matter of time before it competes for a championship.
Only this time, Miami will be the underdogs.
BOSH UNCERTAIN FOR FINAL
The Heat beat the Celtics last spring when Chris Bosh stepped up in a Game 4 win after he admittedly checked out mentally in Miami's Game 3 loss.
Once Bosh found his bounce in Beantown, Miami cruised to its Eastern semifinal win en route to playing for a title.
The road this spring for Bosh has been much bumpier, his status for Monday's series opener in the East final against visiting Boston is that no one is expecting the one-time face of the Raptors to suit up.
Given his injury, an abdominal strain, no one is expecting Bosh to come back anytime soon.
"Not trying to be coy," head coach Erik Spoelstra told reporter in Miami. "He has to heal first, rehab.
"For our mental state of health ... our preparation is without him."
It was two weeks ago Sunday when Bosh suffered the injury against Indiana.
Pacers big man Roy Hibbert did pose problems at both ends of the floor, particularly on defence where he was allowed to roam free in the absence of Bosh and his pick-and-roll presence.
Bosh would have gone up against Kevin Garnett, a rivalry that has seen Bosh upstage the Big Ticket.
"He's getting a lot of work in behind the scenes and that's all we can ask," Dwyane Wade said of Bosh. "He said he's getting better every day and that's all you can ask for."
Without a healthy Bosh playing in rhythm, Miami has no shot of beating whomever comes out of the West in a seven-game series.
Against Boston, Miami doesn't need Bosh, but any kind of minutes will help Bosh get his legs underneath him.