Gameday Dish: Heat vs. Celtics

Copyright 2012 NBAE - Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Miami Heat come to Boston to take on the Celtics in Game 65 of this lockout-shortened regular season. Tonight’s contest will be their third meeting this month and the last of four matchups in 2011-12.

It is still mathematically possible for both the Heat (46-18) and the Celtics (37-27) to catch the teams just ahead of them, the Bulls and the Hawks respectively. However, this abbreviated schedule has taken a physical toll on both teams, and Doc Rivers and Erik Spoelstra may choose to rest their stars for the all-important postseason instead of going full throttle to improve their seeding.

Miami last played Sunday at home against the Houston Rockets. The Heat prevailed 97-88 playing without Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. LeBron James made up for the absence of two thirds of the ‘Big 3’ with 32 points, 8 boards and 5 dimes.

Boston last played on Friday in Atlanta. The Celts lost 97-92 against their soon-to-be first-round opponent. But the 48 was far from a true preview of an upcoming playoff series. All of Beantown’s ‘Big 4’ of Pierce, Garnett, Allen and PG Rondo sat out the game.

2nd-year guard Avery Bradley scored a career-high 28 points in the defeat. With 16th-year, 10X All-Star Allen dinged-up, Bradley has started 16 of the past 17 games, and his production has exploded with added court time and confidence.

When these two recent rivals last met on April 10th in Miami, the C’s came out on top, 115-107. The Green were on fire offensively, shooting a season-high 61% from the field and 64% from beyond the arc. In fact, it was the best any team has shot against the Heat since their core of LeBron, D-Wade and Bosh got together last year. In the game, possible/probable league MVP James had 36, 7 and 7.

Both coaches have to make crucial decisions going into their final two regular season games. Is resting their key guys for the playoffs more important than possibly moving up in the Eastern Conference standings and locking down home court advantage? Should they bench their veterans and give added run to their younger guys to improve depth and expand rotation? Is it better to head into the first round on a hot streak or to sacrifice a couple wins in order to save the legs of their starters?

Tune in to TNT tonight at 8:00 PM ET to see which way Rivers and Spoelstra decide to play it.

Fratello’s Fantasy Pick: Avery Bradley

The Boston Celtics appear to be peaking at just the right time of year. The Green and White have gone 7-2 over their last nine contests. A new, key part of their on-court success is second-year combo guard Avery Bradley.

When 36-year-old, 10X All-Star guard Ray Allen was recently sidelined for a six-game stretch with a sore left ankle, coach Doc Rivers called on the 21-year-old sophomore Bradley to start in his place. Since joining the first unit Bradley has proven he’s an above average off the ball defender and that he can score from the 1 or 2 spot in the backcourt.

Bradley’s production has skyrocketed with his increased playing time. Over the last 9-games he’s averaged 13.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg and 1.1 steals per game in 35.9 minutes, all significantly higher than his season averages of 5.9 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 0.6 steals and 19.2 minutes per game.

In his first start on March 25th in a win at home over the Washington Wizards, the University of Texas product scored a career-high 23 points. On March 28th in a win over the Utah Jazz in Beantown, #0 logged a career-high with 43 minutes. Doc Rivers has exhibited increased confidence in the ultra-athletic Bradley. Even after Allen returned to action against the Spurs, Rivers moved Bradley back into the starting lineup for the subsequent three games.

As the veteran Celtics continue their surge up the Eastern Conference’s playoff-seeding ladder, look for Bradley to gain confidence with each start, accelerate his learning curve and use his above-average athleticism to fill up the stat sheet at both ends.