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Preview: Celtics-Heat

01.06.10 at 10:32 am ET

Paul Pierce has been around for so long that it’s sometimes easy to take him for granted. He popped up on various All-Decade teams, particularly those teams that were put together by careful observers who look more at production than hype. There is no question that his role on a championship team helped his standing, but take a moment to stroll through his career numbers on Pierce has been a model of offensive efficiency and a more complete player than he is usually given credit for.

The Celtics have missed him over the last five games while he dealt with a knee infection following surgery. Would he have been a difference-maker in their losses to the Clippers and Golden State? The guess here is that he probably would have helped them win at least one and probably both, simply by settling things down in the fourth quarter of chaotic games.

Before the team headed for Miami, someone asked Pierce if he thought Eddie House or Ray Allen would make a better team rep in the 3-point contest. Pierce rather nonchalantly suggested that he would make a better candidate and he’s right. The man has been killing it from beyond the arc all season. It’s a minor point in the grand scheme of things, but yet another indication that one of the great players in team history is often criminally overlooked, even in his own town.

CELTICS (24-8, 6-4 last 10)

Points Per Game: 100.5

Points Allowed: 92.8

Differential: +7.8 (First)

Offensive Efficiency: 108.9 (10th)

Defensive Efficiency: 100.5 (First)

Pace: 92.0 (21st)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Rasheed Wallace, Kendrick Perkins

Injuries: Kevin Garnett (hyper-extended knee), Marquis Daniels (thumb), Eddie House (flu)

HEAT (17-15, 6-4 last 10)

Points Per Game: 96.7

Points Allowed: 96.1

Differential: +.6 (13th)

Offensive Efficiency: 106.4 (17th)

Defensive Efficiency: 105.8 (12th)

Pace: 90.8 (27th)

Likely Starters: Carlos Arroyo, Dwyane Wade, Quentin Richardson, Michael Beasley, Joel Anthony

Injuries: Jermaine O’Neal (strained groin; questionable)

Key Matchup: Rasheed Wallace vs. Michael Beasley

There has always been an unfortunate air about Beasley as an NBA player. The presumptive top pick for most of his one-and-done season at Kansas State, Beasley lost ground quickly to Derrick Rose in the run-up to the draft. Given a gift with the second selection, the Heat reportedly tried to unload the pick rather than take on the enigmatic forward. Those misgivings were possibly borne out during a tumultuous summer that saw Beasley check himself into a rehab clinic after a picture on his Twitter account seemed to reveal a nefarious-looking plastic bag. Lost in all the drama is the fact that Beasley can play. He’s a scoring machine who is coming into his own as a rebounder. Depending on the Celtics injury situation, Wallace will probably draw the assignment and Beasley’s athleticism will be a nice counter against Wallace’s veteran bag of tricks.

The Celtics in a Paragraph: In a way, the team’s injuries couldn’t have come at a better time. This is the time of the NBA year when teams all across the league hit a lull. The All-Star Game is still over a month away and the end of the season is nowhere in sight. This is when teams start to slip, and outside of the Cavs and Lakers all of the elite teams seem to be dealing with something. The Magic are going through one of their patented stretches when Stan Van Gundy hates everything about them and the Hawks have backslid after a fantastic start. Even with all the injuries, the Celtics remain a confident bunch.

The Heat in a Paragraph: Of all the teams gearing up for the 2010 offseason, the Heat are in the most unique situation. They have Wade, of course, but they also have a roster full of expiring contracts. Their not-so-subtle plan is to get through this season without alienating their franchise player and then surround him with at least one premier player. Maybe it will be Chris Bosh. At the very least they could probably add Carlos Boozer in a heartbeat. The dream remains LeBron James and DWade, but that’s still many months away. For now they have to hope that cosmetic changes like presumably adding Rafer Alston after he clears waivers will help settle Wade and then the twin attractions of South Beach weather and Florida’s lack of a state income tax will make everything sunny again. It’s a calculated risk to be sure, but probably a better plan than the ones cooked up in New York and New Jersey.

What to Watch For: The starting lineup. So much depends on who’s in the lineup, and who’s not, that it’s beyond reason to analyze this game before tip-off. One thing the Celtics know is that Miami will go to Wade early and often. He’s a beast to control because of his ability to get in the paint and to “live at the free throw line,” as Doc Rivers said Tuesday. Limit Wade and you can control Miami. Beyond that, we’ll all just have to wait and see who suits up in green.

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