After starting 0-7 and falling as many as 11 games below .500 this season, the Miami Heat didn’t seem like they would end up in the position they are now.
Headed to the playoffs, the surprising Heat look to reach .500 for the first time in 2003-04 when they host the Boston Celtics.
Miami lost its first game in March to fall to 25-36, but has since gone 13-3. The Heat are battling the New Orleans Hornets for fifth place in the Eastern Conference and are right on the heels of fourth-place Milwaukee.
Miami officially qualified for the postseason when Cleveland lost to Toronto 87-86 on Tuesday.
Of Miami’s five remaining games, two come against Cleveland and two are against the Celtics, who need to hold off the Cavaliers and Philadelphia to claim a playoff berth. Miami closes the season at home against New Jersey on April 14.
The Heat, whose three losses since March 4 have all come on the road, bounced back from a 92-84 defeat at Detroit on Friday with a 97-83 road win over the Chicago Bulls on Saturday.
Butler, averaging 9.2 points this season, is scoring 15.2 over his last 11 games.
“Caron has been playing great. He’s just found his way, found his role and I love the way he’s been playing,” Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said. “He is actually in my opinion over the last 10 or 12 games playing better basketball than he did last year because he is doing it at both ends of the floor.”
Miami, which swept the season series with the Bulls for the first time in franchise history, will try for its first win in three tries against Boston this season.
The Heat have won nine straight home games, including victories over Western Conference powers Sacramento and Dallas, and will try to avenge an 86-84 home loss to Boston on Jan. 20.
The Celtics, 17-21 on the road, will have to pick up their play away from home after dropping the opener of a four-game road trip, 112-102 to the Washington Wizards on Sunday.
Rookie guard Marcus Banks led Boston with a career-high 24 points on 11-for-13 shooting and had six steals in 27 minutes. The Celtics lead ninth-place Philadelphia by 2 1/2 games for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“We lost the game, but we gained some valuable experience for Marcus,” said Paul Pierce, who added 17 points and tied a career high with 13 assists. “Coming down the stretch, we understand how important he is going to be for us not only in the future, but now, and especially in the playoffs.”
Boston’s road trip closes with matchups against the Hornets on Friday and Atlanta on Saturday. The Celtics close the season with consecutive home games against the Heat and the Hawks.
STANDINGS (through April 5): Celtics - 4th place, 10 1/2 GB, Atlantic Division. Heat - 2nd place, 7 1/2 GB, Atlantic Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Celtics - Pierce, 23.0 ppg and 5.1 apg; Blount, 7 rpg. Heat - Jones, 17.8 ppg; Odom, 9.9 rpg; Rafer Alston, 4.6 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Celtics, 2-0.
LAST MEETING: Jan. 20; Celtics, 86-84. At Miami, the Celtics held the Heat to just two baskets in the final 5 1/2 minutes to snap a four-game losing streak.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Celtics - 17-21 on the road; Heat - 26-12 at home.