With another regular-season accomplishment checked off their laundry list of accolades, the Miami Heat are getting healthy and gearing up for the playoffs.
If the Boston Celtics aren’t careful, they just may wind up seeing them pretty often over the next few weeks.
In what’s arguably been the Eastern Conference’s premier matchup in recent years, the Celtics looks to strengthen their grip on a No. 7 seed - thus avoiding a first-round postseason trip to South Beach - when the clubs meet Friday night in Miami.
For all of the game’s importance to Boston, the stakes in this one will be considerably lessened from previous meetings, even though the Heat have knocked the Celtics out of the playoffs each season since LeBron James came on board in 2010.
James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are expected to play for Miami after missing time with various injuries, although Shane Battier and Udonis Haslem are out. The Celtics won’t be as fortunate with their personnel, as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are not expected to suit up due to ankle issues.
Wade missed six straight games with ankle and knee problems, and his minutes will surely be limited as a result.
“I’m sure my lungs will need that,” he said.
James, who sat out four of the past six with a strained right hamstring, and Bosh, out the last three due to flu-like symptoms, could have taken another night off thanks to their team’s 103-98 victory at Washington on Wednesday. The Heat (62-16) set a franchise mark for wins and clinched home-court advantage through the NBA finals.
The effort put the finishing touches on a record-setting season that also saw a 27-game win streak.
“We’ve had an amazing year,” Battier said. “We’ve set a lot of records and we’ve had a lot of storylines the whole year. Hopefully our best storyline is still ahead of us. That’s what we’re saving the high-fives for.”
Despite the absences of its three stars, Miami hardly missed a beat thanks to its reserves, proving that the Heat have plenty of depth going into the playoffs.
“Most definitely, we would be a playoff team,” forward Rashard Lewis said of Miami’s bench after he scored 17 against the Wizards. “Probably not a top-three team, but I think anywhere from there we’d be fighting for a playoff spot, just because we’ve got a lot of veterans on the team, a lot of smart guys on the team that know how to play the game.”
The Celtics (40-38) have turned out to be the short-handed squad for this game with the announcement that Pierce and Garnett won’t play, adding to the club’s predicament.
Boston has a three-game lead over Milwaukee for the seventh seed, but it lost the season series to the Bucks and finishes with three of four on the road.
The Celtics fell 101-93 at home to Brooklyn on Wednesday, continuing an inconsistent season that has seen them alternate wins and losses over their last four games.
“I think we’re focusing too much on the playoffs, and that’s not here yet,” said Garnett, who made his last two starts after missing eight games with a bad left ankle. “I think we need to focus and lock in on these games that we have left and put the energy and effort behind that.”
Despite the significant difference in records, the teams have battled in extremely competitive games in 2013 - both in Boston. Miami won 105-103 on March 18 on a James jumper with 10.5 seconds left, and the Celtics earned a 100-98 victory in two overtimes Jan. 27.