Friday April 29th, 2011

The first round provided few helpful clues about Boston as it swept the decimated Knicks, but the four wins did give point guard Rajon Rondo the opportunity to reassert command of his team. The Heat benefited by being pushed all-out to overcome the tenacious 76ers, whose incessant running won't be duplicated by the elderly Celtics. The regular season offered mixed signals: The Celtics dominated overall (3-1), but Miami ran them off the floor in their most recent meeting.


Rajon Rondo vs. LeBron James. They may not spend much time guarding each other, but each will serve a playmaking role that will dictate his team's success. The Celtics will try to spread the floor to allow Rondo to attack and create open shots, which will, in turn, make Miami's defense look as if it's a step slow. James is the NBA's most dangerous multiple threat, and his ability to read-and-react instantaneously with Dwyane Wade is Boston's gravest worry.


Boston's O'Neals. He won't clamp off the paint as Kendrick Perkins or Shaquille O'Neal have done for Boston, but Jermaine O'Neal's ability to rebound, block shots and draw charges has made him a late-season savior. A weakness would turn into a strength if Shaq is able to return from his lingering injuries and insert his dominant self in front of each basket, enabling Nenad Krstic to clean up as a No. 3 center.

Miami's bench. Shot-blocking center Joel Anthony and shot-making point guard Mario Chalmers have seized high-energy roles with the second unit, helping to compensate for the extended absences of big man Udonis Haslem and swingman Mike Miller. If the latter two are able to contribute, then the Heat could be surprisingly deep; if not, they could still win this series as long as Anthony and Chalmers come up big.


The edge goes to the Celtics until proved otherwise. They're not as imposing on the edges of their rotation, but the four stars intuit one another and they rise to challenges. The Heat have improved throughout this "inaugural" season, but to prevail here Miami's stars must elevate their group play to a season-high. That's definitely within their reach, but we already know the Celtics can do what the Heat are aspiring to do. Boston in six.

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