The Philadelphia 76ers don't have many ways left to be hopeful for an Atlantic Division title. The best thing Sixers fans like myself have for comfort is that Philadelphia still has a manageable schedule, while the Boston Celtics must face a lot of elite teams. If the Sixers win the games they are supposed to while the Celtics lose the ones they are supposed to, this could be a race again.
Unfortunately, Boston keeps facing the Miami Heat right as LeBron James and company tune out. For the second time in a row, the Celtics caught the Heat napping and even did it in Miami this time. Once again the Sixers paid for the Heat's relative lack of urgency, as the Celtics stayed three games ahead in the Atlantic with a 115-107 win.
Things were tougher for the Celtics than they were on April 1 in Boston, when the Heat sleepwalked through a 19 point defeat. It looked like it would be the same in the rematch at first, as Boston used a few early runs to build an 18 point lead. However, the Heat did wake up to make a few rallies, with James tallying up 36 points in the process.
Yet the Celtics never gave up the lead, even though they were in a rare shootout. But Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo more than kept up with James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, as Boston torched Miami by shooting just over 60 percent. Since the Heat shot just over 44 percent themselves, it is a wonder that they got the score as close as they did.
But close was no cigar for Miami, as the cold reality is that Boston is starting to have its way with the Heat again. Of course, when they met in the playoffs last season - once games started to count again - it was another matter. And since the Heat seem to have no interest in catching the Chicago Bulls for the No. 1 playoff seed - especially since they blew them out as a No. 2 in last year's conference finals - these losses to the Celtics technically shouldn't affect them.
They will affect the Sixers, however, as they would have closed back to within two games of first place if the Heat took care of business. But Miami let Boston run all over it and build its already dangerous hot streak up further.
Now after a season of turmoil and struggle, the Celtics are starting to believe they can make one more playoff run before their Big Three breaks up. Unfortunately for the Sixers, that would make another Celtics division title even more likely. And that would probably doom Philadelphia to another playoff showdown with Miami - just as it conveniently begins to wake up again.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan.
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