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Heat eager for competitive clash with rival Celtics

Jan 23, 2023; Orlando, Florida, USA;  Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) drives ti the basket past Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero (5) in the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Heat — and particularly center Bam Adebayo — are bracing for a visit from the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night.

“When the Celtics come in, we always try to make it a dogfight,” Adebayo said.

And a dogfight it’s been, as the two teams have gone toe-to-toe with each other on some of the biggest stages. Miami eliminated Boston in the 2020 playoffs, when the Heat made it to the NBA Finals. However, Boston got revenge last season, eliminating Miami in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals for a shot at its 18th title.

Adebayo indicated that Boston is one of the teams he respects the most — along with the Milwaukee Bucks.

“It’s one of the two teams in the conference that I feel like we see each other every year in the playoffs,” Adebayo said. “We always see each other.

“So, for us, us trying to make this push and our playoff run, we’ve got to go through (the Celtics).”

Miami has gone 10-5 over its past 15 games, surging into sixth place in the Eastern Conference. The Heat had Monday off after rallying from a 16-point deficit to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 100-96 on Sunday.

Boston, which has the best record in the NBA at 35-13, had its nine-game winning streak snapped on Monday when the Orlando Magic pulled off a 113-98 upset.

The Celtics were short-handed against Orlando, though. Robert Williams III was nursing a left knee injury, while reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart was out with a sprained right ankle. Malcolm Brogdon, who has been an effective sixth man, missed Monday’s game for personal reasons.

Williams is averaging 7.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks while shooting 75.4 percent from the floor. He’s served as a rim protector, a dynamic lob threat and a surprisingly good passer, but his injury is especially concerning considering he had surgery on that same knee last March.

“Nothing serious,” Boston interim head coach Joe Mazzulla said when asked about Williams’ injury.

Marcus Smart is averaging 11.1 points and a team-high 7.2 assists, while Brogdon is scoring 14.3 points per game in his first season in Boston after being acquired via trade this offseason.

Those injuries put even more pressure on Boston’s two biggest stars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Tatum is averaging 31.0 points, while Brown is close behind with an average of 26.9.

Brown acknowledged the difficulty of Boston’s current predicament, especially with a meeting with the Heat on the horizon.

“To win on the road down a bunch of guys, it’s hard to do,” Brown said.

Miami will counter Tatum and Brown with its big three — Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro and Adebayo.

Butler leads Miami in scoring (21.6 points per game) and steals (2.1) while ranking second in rebounds (6.1) and assists (5.0). However, he is averaging just 15.0 points while facing consistent double teams over the past two games.

Herro is averaging 20.8 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists. Adebayo is averaging 21.4 points and a team-high 10.1 rebounds.

–Field Level Media

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