Heat’s top-seed hopes die in loss to Celtics

  • By Ira Winderman Sun Sentinel
  • Tuesday, April 24, 2012 7:58pm
  • SportsSports

BOSTON — In the end, the No. 1 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference was not the priority.

Getting to the playoffs further unscathed, against a still-to-be-determined opponent, clearly remains paramount for the Miami Heat.

So even with all three saying they could have played if this was a postseason game, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were reduced to spectators for Tuesday night’s 78-66 loss to the Boston Celtics at TD Garden.

The loss, in the Heat’s penultimate game of the regular season, officially extinguished their chances of finishing atop the East, something that would have happened anyway if the conference-leading Chicago Bulls would have won one of their upcoming two remaining games.

With James getting his hoped-for rest, Wade working his way through a dislocated left index finger and Bosh dealing with a lingering hamstring issue, the Heat left the challenge of the Celtics to the likes of Dexter Pittman, Norris Cole and Juwan Howard.

Forward James Jones led the Heat with 11 points, with forward Udonis Haslem contributing 13 rebounds in 23 minutes. Celtics forward Paul Pierce, the lone All-Star in action, closed with eight points in 18 minutes. The Celtics put it away on a late scoring burst from guard Sasha Pavlovic.

The Heat’s previous scoring low this season was 72, in the first of their two visits to Boston this season.

The Celtics, locked into an opening-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, made it somewhat of a fair fight by holding out Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

The expected level of play ensued, including the Heat holding a 34-28 halftime lead, with the teams earlier combining for 18 first-quarter turnovers.

Instead of putting any type of priority on the game, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra used the morning shootaround as the start of playoff training camp, with the Big Three and the rest of the roster taking part. At No. 2 in the East, the Heat will open the playoffs this weekend in a best-of-seven series against either the New York Knicks, the most likely opponent, or the Orlando Magic or Philadelphia 76ers.

With James, Bosh and Wade also expected to sit out Thursday’s season finale against the Washington Wizards at the back end of this two-game trip, it will mean heading into the playoffs having gone two weeks without playing with each other.

If that is a concern, it wasn’t evident Tuesday.

“It would have if it was last year, but not now,” James said of the trio’s second season together. “I think we’ve had enough games this year, also enough shootarounds, that we can go back out there and just have it click right back.

“Last year, we didn’t know each other as much, so I would have been a little concerned last year if we didn’t play together for 2 {, three weeks, but not much this year.”

Wade agreed that by playing side-by-side through last season’s NBA Finals, playoff confidence is already in place.

“Obviously, an ideal situation for anybody was for everybody to continue to play all the way through the end and everyone be healthy and be comfortable going into it playing your best basketball,” Wade said. “But for us, we know each other, we know our game, and I think the biggest thing for us is to continue to communicate.

“We’re smart enough and have enough IQ to pick it up and just go out there and do it.”

Bosh said that the lockout-compacted schedule created a different dynamic at the close of the season.

“I mean it’s just been such a weird season,” he said. “It’s just been a weird season from the get-go. Health is the number-one concern. Yes, we would like more time at 100 percent, but we really haven’t had that all year.

“So just to be able to be healthy, I think is the main concern. And we want to be able to play at 100 percent, everybody on full cylinders, so we can compete at the highest level.”

For now, Spoelstra is using shootarounds and off-day practices to get his primary rotation up to speed.

“We’ve put in a lot of time, already, together,” he said. “It’s a year and a half. If we didn’t have that body of work, it’d probably be a little tougher right now. We have some other priorities in terms of making sure our health is right.”

James did not deny it has been a grueling journey.

“It’s been a sprint of a season,” he said. “The postseason is here and I remember it just like yesterday, the opening night in Dallas. It’s been a sprint and guys have done their best to stay in the form of basketball shape that needs to be done, I think both mentally and physically.”

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