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PreHeat: Miami Heat (39-14) vs Boston Celtics (38-14)

Is this the most important regular season game for the Heat in recent memory? Certainly the last few years had little drama when compared to what's at stake today. But I keep going back and forth as to which team needs this victory more and whether any of this will be relevant by the time the playoffs begin. Just look at how irrelevant the first two games against the Celtics have become. Three more months after this game and who knows where both of these teams will be?

The Heat are a completely different squad than they were back then when they had to face off against Boston in the first game of the season (and the first game the Big 3 played together as one). Unsurprisingly they struggled mightily against the Celtics' superior team defense and only mustered 9 points in the first quarter. Even still, the Celtics only escaped with an 8 point victory against a disjointed Heat attack that was nonetheless effective in the second half.

The second game in Miami was even closer with the final margin of victory just 5 points. How much has the Heat changed since then? Carlos Arroyo and Joel Anthony were starters. Jerry Stackhouse played 7 minutes as a reserve. Mike Miller was in street clothes. Erick Dampier was likely watching the game at his house. Udonis Haslem scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds off the bench in 33 minutes. Mario Chalmers only 5 minutes.

Both games took place in the first weeks of the season. Since then, the Heat have posted the NBA's best record in their last 36 games by going 30-6. The Celtics have played well despite mounting injuries and heavy minutes for their 4 All-Stars and have been at the top of the Eastern Conference for almost the entire duration of the season but are half a game back of the Heat right now. A win today clinches any tiebreaker for the Celtics should the two teams finish with the same record (which almost seems like a likely possibility). Boston is 1-3 in their last 4 games.

About those injuries: Nate Robinson (knee) is probable while former Heat O'Neal centers Shaq and Jermaine will both be out along with Semih Erden (foot). Delonte West (wrist) and swingman Marquis Daniels (back) are also not available. Only Haslem is out for the Heat but keep an eye on Wade's bothersome wrist, which has been bothering him lately.

The Heat enters with the league's longest current winning streak at 8 games but can't seem to beat Boston lately. Including the playoffs, the Heat have lost 6 of their last 7 games against them. Don't forget that the Cavs also lost to the Celtics last year so both Wade and LeBron have all the motivation they need should there be a rematch in the playoffs, a virtual certainty considering the lack of talented teams in the East.

Tipoff: 1:00 PM, TD Garden, Boston MA

TV: ABC, Radio: 790 AM (WAXY)