Tonight’s game against the Boston Celtics starts a three-game road swing for Miami that will be as true a test as any as to where it stands within the Eastern Conference. Boston’s own recent three-game test was to see whether it is ready to be a legitimate contender, but Miami’s is to see if it can merely stay afloat. By the time their road trip against Boston, Cleveland, and Chicago has finished, the Heat could conceivably be behind Chicago and Milwaukee, on the outside of the playoff situation looking in.
Still, even knowing they aren’t a contender, Miami’s situation sounds a lot like Boston’s.
“This is the toughest part of our schedule,” Erik Spoelstra told the Miami Herald. “I saw this in August when I got the schedule. Now, more than ever, we have to be together. We have to get tougher mentally and respond to adverse situations. We’ve got to fix it.”
The Celtics may be over the toughest part of their schedule, but – much like the Heat — still have problems to fix. Rajon Rondo spoke about a Celtics locker room lacking a common goal, and Danny Ainge echoed his sentiments.
“This year I think there has been a little bit of [rumbling], ” Ainge said. “I still think it has more to do with, what Rondo was saying, it’s just the attitude and [whether it is] a priority for each player to win a championship.”
He continued, “Do [All-Star appearances, future contracts, minutes played and the amount of shots taken] matter, or is the only thing that matters winning an NBA Championship for every single guy?”
While the Heat may suffer from a schedule and inability to respond to tough situations, a la the Celtics, things for them remain quite different. As much as Spoelstra and Dwyane Wade would like to think otherwise, they aren’t chasing an NBA championship. Instead, they’re just trying to earn a playoff berth — preferably as high a seed as possible — and win enough games and inspire enough hope to keep Wade in Miami for years to come. Anything else, including even a first-round playoff victory, would be gravy.
In fact, Miami losing all three games of their upcoming road trip is almost expected. For Boston, losing all three games of their own was the end of the world.
But even with those losses hardly faded out of the rearview mirror, the Celtics can look across the court tonight at Miami and take solace in at least two things.
One: They are fighting for something far greater than just a playoff berth.
And two: That goddamn stretch of brutal schedule is mercilessly behind them.
Three things to look for in tonight’s game:
- Tony Allen starting? – With Paul Pierce likely to miss tonight’s game with a strained mid-foot, Allen will likely get the starting nod. Allen has played well recently, and has finally patched together some consistency for Boston. With Pierce hurting, the Celtics will need it.
- Rafer Alston vs. Eddie House, round two? – Watch yo’ back, Eddie. Or, more specifically, the back of your head.
- Rajon Rondo should have his way- The fact that Rafer Alston starts at point guard for Miami doesn’t simply mean a reunion with Eddie House. It also means Rajon Rondo should have a big day. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Rondo should be just a little too speedy for Alston to stay in front of.