Heat-Celtics Preview

The Associated Press

The Big Three continue to lead the way for the Miami Heat, who seem unlikely to relinquish control of the Southeast Division lead down the stretch.

While Ray Allen has missed the last five games, the Boston Celtics have climbed to the top of the Atlantic behind tremendous efforts from Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

Looking to continue their recent success in this series, the Heat try to avoid an eighth consecutive regular-season road loss to the Celtics as these Eastern Conference rivals square off Sunday afternoon.

After a dominating performance in last season's conference semifinals, Miami (37-13) improved to 6-1 over the last seven meetings in this series with a home-opening 115-107 win Dec. 27. Allen scored 28 in that game while Rajon Rondo added 22 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds for Boston (29-22), which couldn't keep up down the stretch with Pierce sidelined due to a bruised right heel.

The Celtics could be shorthanded again in this one with Allen's status up in the air due to a sore right ankle. Boston, however, hasn't missed a beat during Allen's absence thanks in large part to Pierce and Garnett.

While Pierce has averaged 22.3 points during the Celtics' 6-1 run, the 35-year-old Garnett has recorded 23.7 per game on 59.3 percent shooting over the last three.

"I hear you all calling me old. I hear you all calling me ... weathered," Garnett told the team's official website after Wednesday's 94-82 win over Utah. "I'm motivated. It doesn't really take much to motivate me, man. I'm older in basketball years, but in life I'm 30-something."

Garnett had a game-high 24 points and 10 rebounds Friday in Minnesota while Pierce posted 21 and nine as Boston surpassed Philadelphia for first place with a 100-79 rout. Rondo dished out 17 assists, giving him at least 10 in 12 straight games.

The Heat, meanwhile, defeated Toronto 113-101 on Friday for just their third win in their last nine on the road. Miami shot 57.1 percent and outscored the Raptors 64-36 in the paint, closing on a 24-12 run.

"I just think the fourth quarter we just know that's winning time for us - it's not saying that the first three quarters we don't play with a sense of urgency - but those last 12 minutes ... we finished it off at the end," said LeBron James, who had 26 points and nine assists.

Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh each had 30 points while Mario Chalmers chipped in 14 as Miami increased its division lead to six over Orlando.

"It's hard to contain (Miami's) offense," said Toronto's DeMar DeRozan. "They move the ball well and they know what they're looking for. When you have three All Stars on your team it makes it tough to cover all of them."

While James and Wade get much of the attention, more big nights from Bosh could be key going forward. Miami is 12-0 when Bosh scores at least 24 points and 17-2 when he has at least 20.

"You got to be fired up to win basketball games. It's a rough league," Bosh told the league's official website. "You just have to bring energy and that's how I have fun, I just bring some energy, play as hard as possible and let it all hang out."

Miami, which is 26-3 when scoring at least 99 points, has been limited to an average of 89.0 during its seven-game regular-season skid in Boston.

Ranking second in the league with 85.5 points per contest surrendered on its own court, the Celtics have outscored opponents by an average of 10.0 points during a season-best seven-game home winning streak.

Miami's Udonis Haslem is expected to rejoin the team Sunday after missing Friday's contest due to personal reasons.

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