Boston Celtics star forward Paul Pierce said the team knows what's at stake during this stretch run towards the playoffs. Pierce and the Celtics will have a chance to prove that in the unfriendly confines of AmericanAirlines Arena, where they'll take on the Miami Heat tonight.
The Celtics have catapulted themselves to the top spot in the Atlantic Division with a three-game stranglehold on both Philadelphia and New York, and are coming off Sunday's 103-79 drubbing of the 76ers at TD Garden. Kevin Garnett scored 20 points, Brandon Bass and Avery Bradley netted 18 points apiece and Pierce ended with 17.
"We know what's at stake," said Pierce. "A fourth seed, maybe a third."
Boston is currently the fourth seed in the East and shot a sizzling 58.8 percent from the field, burying 7-of-15 three-pointers in the spree. It also led by as many as 28 points. Rajon Rondo handed out 15 assists, and has 10- plus assists in 17 straight games. John Stockton had a single-season streak of 29 games back in 1992.
The Celtics have won two straight and seven of nine games, and are in the midst of playing seven of nine contests on the road. They are 12-15 away from Beantown this season.
Miami, which has already clinched a playoff spot in the East, had a 17-game home winning streak stopped versus Memphis on Friday, but rebounded with Sunday's 98-75 victory over the Detroit Pistons.
LeBron James scored 26 points, while Chris Bosh added 22 points and nine rebounds for the Southeast Division-leading Heat, who are 24-3 at home and seeded second in the Eastern Conference -- two games behind a suddenly-sliding Chicago squad. The Bulls have lost three of four games.
"Tonight we had great spacing, and I was able to get some easy ones," said James Jones, who tied a career-high with six three-pointers en route to a season-best 18 points.
The Heat will close out a five-game homestand (3-1) tonight before heading to the Windy City for a matchup with the Bulls on Thursday. Miami has won five of seven games overall and did not have second-leading scorer Dwyane Wade for the second time in four games because of a sore right ankle.
Miami's Mike Miller was back in the lineup after missing 14 games with a sprained left ankle, and registered four rebounds in less than 25 minutes.
Wade is expected back for Tuesday and is averaging 22.6 ppg. Miami has held up strong without him, however, compiling a 10-1 make this season with the star on the sidelines.
The Heat and Celtics are playing the third of four matchups this season and will meet again April 24 in Beantown. Boston has won 15 of the last 18 games in this series, and Rondo recorded a triple-double in a 91-72 victory on April 1 at TD Garden.
Boston has won seven of its last 10 trips to the shores of Biscayne Bay.