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Celtics, Heat clash in top-heavy Eastern Conference

Sportsnaut
May 11, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) blocks the shot of Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) in the first quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown — who combine to average 50.5 points — are expected to return from injuries on Wednesday night when the Boston Celtics host the Miami Heat in a matchup of Eastern Conference heavyweights.

Miami (48-28) leads the conference, while the Celtics (47-29) are one game back. Also hanging out in the vicinity of first place are the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and the revamped Philadelphia 76ers.

Tatum and Brown both have sore right knees, forcing them to sit out Monday’s 115-112 overtime loss at the Toronto Raptors. That loss ended Boston’s six-game winning streak.

Celtics center Al Horford also missed Monday’s game due to personal reasons, but he could return to face the Heat as well.

A fourth Celtics player — center Robert Williams — is expected to miss at least the remainder of the regular season due to a left-knee injury.

Williams, who averages 10.0 points, leads Boston in rebounds (9.6) and blocks (2.2).

“Rob makes a big impact on both sides of the ball,” Celtics shooting guard Derrick White said. “You can’t really replace what he does. He’s unique.”

Tatum, who averages 27.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.3 assists, shoots 86.0 percent from the foul line, 51.9 percent on 2-point shots and 35.6 percent on 3-pointers.

Brown, who averages 23.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists, shoots 75.8 percent on free throws, 54.4 percent on 2-point shots and 35.0 percent on 3-pointers.

In 14 career games against Miami, Tatum is averaging 20.1 points. Brown is averaging 13.4 points in 15 games against Miami, although just nine of those were starts.

Boston guard Marcus Smart presents another scoring option while coming off a team-high 28 points on Monday.

The Heat snapped a season-worst four-game losing streak on Monday by beating the visiting Sacramento Kings 123-100.

Jimmy Butler led Miami in points (27) and assists (seven), while Bam Adebayo had a double-double by halftime, finishing with 22 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.

“I think we got a little comfortable, expecting we were going to win every night,” Butler said of Miami’s slump. “We have lapses at times, but I feel like we have a championship-caliber team. When we are clicking, we are tough to beat.”

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who returned after missing one game due to family reasons, made a change in his starting lineup. He inserted Max Strus in place of Duncan Robinson, who played off the bench for the first time since Jan. 15 to end his run of 32 consecutive starts.

Strus scored eight points on 3-of-12 shooting. Robinson scored 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting, with all of his attempts coming from behind the 3-point line.

“That’s the best part of this team — nobody takes anything personal,” Butler said about the change to the starting lineup. “I’m not going to lie to you and say it’s an easy thing to handle. But (Robinson) has been handling it like a pro.

“We’re in his corner, and we’re going to need him.”

Robinson insists that his change in status is no big deal.

“I’m comfortable playing with everybody,” Robinson said. “There’s not much of an adjustment.”

–Field Level Media