LeBron James and Dwyane Wade return to Boston looking for their third-straight win, but Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics will try to play spoiler when two teams clash at 3:30 p.m. EST on Sunday at TD Garden (TV/Radio: ABC/WEEI).
What was considered a premier battle of conference powers last season has now become a lopsided advantage for Miami, which is in its prime as a unit, featuring superstars like James, Wade and Chris Bosh. Without any surprise, the Heat are one of the NBA's elite teams are are 3.5 games back of the first-place Chicago Bulls in the East at 37-13.
Boston has had an up-and-down year, but has played its best basketball in the last month. The Celtics wrapped up the month of March with a 12-5 record and a 29-22 mark overall. Their last win, over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday, gave the Celtics sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division, as well as the fourth seed in the East.
Miami and Boston met once early in the season, and while the Celtics would make things interesting at the end, the youthful Heat captured a 115-107 win behind 26 points from James, 24 from Wade and a surprising 20 off the bench from Norris Cole. Ray Allen scored 28 to lead Boston, which was without its captain, Pierce, who had a right heel injury.
Snakebitten by injuries for the majority of the season, the Celtics will again enter a game with the status of one of their stars up in the air. Allen hasn't played since last Thursday against the Milwaukee Bucks when he tweaked his ankle. Also, head coach Doc Rivers said that reserve swingman Mickael Pietrus (concussion) may not return until the playoffs.
The matchup with the Heat is the first in a month-long string of brutal games for the Celtics, who will need to maintain their high level of play if they hope to finish the year in the fourth seed or higher. After Sunday's showdown at the Garden, Boston hosts the always-dangerous San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday and faces the Bulls on Thursday.