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NBA: Miami Heat @ Boston Celtics preview

The latest of the NBA's doubleheader clashes is a rematch from last season's Eastern Conference finals, as the Miami Heat return to TD Garden to meet the league-leading Boston Celtics.

Last year saw these two face off in a seven-game battle for a spot in the Finals, with Jimmy Butler excelling to keep the Heat in the mix. His missed three-pointer in the final seconds of Game 7 cost Miami a return to the Finals, but it showed how little there was between the pair.

A quarter of the way through their 2022-23 campaign, things aren't panning out too well for the Heat. They sit below .500 after a slow start and they've been limping by with seven or eight players per night of late.

Meanwhile, the Celtics have gone from strength to strength this season despite losing coach Ime Udoka. They've got a league-high 17 wins to their name this term, but will that continue against a Heat side that pushed them to the last seconds of last season's conference finals?

What: Miami Heat @ Boston Celtics

Where: TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts

When: 00:40, Thursday 1st December, 2022

How to watch: Sky Sports, NBA Pass, bet365 Sports Live Streaming

Odds: MIA Heat 13/4, BOS Celtics 4/17

Celtics top the pile

The Boston Celtics lead the way in the NBA, despite the issues they've faced over recent months. Rookie coach Joe Mazzulla hasn't just put the Celtics on top of the East, they've got the best record in the NBA by quite some distance. Their 17-4 return has them three wins clear of the rest of their competitors.

The Celtics had a mean defence last season but they've let that slip slightly to get better going the other way. 

The Boston defence is ranked 14th in the NBA, but their average of 121.3 points scored per game is the best in the division. Their scoring record increases to 126 points per night at TD Garden, so it's little wonder that the Celtics are 4/17 on the Moneyline for another home win on Wednesday night.

Will Miami get Butler boost?

The Miami Heat expect Jimmy Butler to play some part in both games in Boston having missed each of the last five games with knee-soreness. The Heat have a 3-4 record without Butler on the court this season, but they were able to win their last two games without him.

Bam Adebayo has scored over 30 points in back-to-back games for the Heat, keeping them competitive in the East's playoff chase. The Heat are 5/13 to make this season's playoffs, but the fact that they're 20/23 to be in the East's Play-in tournament suggests they'll need to make the post-season the hard way.

However, the Heat are only 1.5 games off the top six. They were the top side in the conference in the regular season last year and the returning Butler could push them back towards that level. 

There are, though, other areas which need to improve if Miami are going to meet Butler's promise of a championship.

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Defensive battle for pair

The defensive battle in this one should be interesting, as they are both missing their best lock-down defenders from last season's Conference finals. The Celtics have Robert Williams III on the injury list, while the Miami Heat lost PJ Tucker in the offseason.

However, Miami have somehow climbed to ninth in the NBA's defensive rankings without Tucker. 

They are conceding 110.2 points per 100 possessions, marking them out as one of the leanest sides in the league. They've become much more defensively focused in Butler's absence, but can they continue that against the league's hottest attack?

The Celtics have Jaylen Brown questionable with injury going into this one and the Heat have caused a lot of problems for Jayson Tatum in the past. Tatum has been cut to just 3/1 for MVP after a brilliant season for the Celtics, but Erik Spoelstra is a coach who can plan for a player like Tatum.

Looking over the Heat's recent form, Spo almost seems like a coach who fares better when he's up against it. Working with odd rotations and scraping together defensive schemes seems to work for the Heat's long-time coach, so he might thrive in the two showdowns against the Celtics.

The Heat continue to have injury concerns and that has seen the points spread set at nine, with the Celtics 10/11 to win down by nine points. However, Miami's recent defensive record suggests they can turn this one into a battle and keep things close.

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