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Miami whets its appetite while preparing for Boston

by | Special to CBSSports.com

MIAMI -- The Miami Heat took care of business Wednesday night with a 97-91 victory against the Philadelphia 76ers to move onto the second round.

Or, as LeBron James calls it ...

Lunch time.

James made a reference to the first round as breakfast before Game 5 against the Sixers, which drew some displeasure from the opposing team, but it didn't matter.

Mario Chalmers stepped up with 20 points off the bench, Dwyane Wade scored 12 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter, Chris Bosh had 22 points and 16 points, and James nearly had a triple-double with 16 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists.

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Next up for the Heat, the Boston Celtics. A daunting task to say the least.

"This is the series everyone wanted to see," James said.

Yes it is. The Celtics, who made quick work of the Knicks, are led by their four All-Stars -- Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo -- and will square off against the Heat's All-Star trio of James, Wade, and Bosh beginning Sunday in Miami.

"No question we see it as the title of the 'Big Three', but we're different players in a sense," Wade said. "They were the first ones in our day to put three stars together, three Hall of Famers together and make it work when a lot of people probably questioned it."

The Celtics added Garnett and Allen to Pierce through trades back in 2007 and Rondo, a Celtics draftee, quickly rose into a star himself. Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday, who averaged 14.2 points in the series against the Heat, thinks Rondo will be the difference in the series.

"I think it might be kind of difficult [for the Heat] just because they say they have the Big Three, but [the Celtics] have four," Holiday said. "Rajon Rondo does so much for them. As a point guard he's definitely one of the smartest players hands down in the league."

LeBron on the matchup with the Celtics: 'This is the series everyone wanted to see.' (Getty Images)  
LeBron on the matchup with the Celtics: 'This is the series everyone wanted to see.' (Getty Images)  
In the three years since the Celtics made the two landmark trades, they won the NBA championship in 2008 and lost in the Finals in 2010. They have been the Eastern Conference's best team.

James and Wade know this first hand as both of their respective teams, James with Cleveland and Wade with the Heat, were knocked out of the playoffs by the Celtics last season.

"I think we always felt it would happen at some point," James said of the matchup. "We didn't know if it was going to be first round, second round, or Eastern Conference Finals. We just always felt at some point we would have to go through Boston and play Boston to get where we want to get it. It's here now and we are looking forward to the challenge."

In the regular season, the Celtics won the series three games to one with the Heat winning in the last matchup on April 10, a 100-77 blowout.

"It was an important from a mental standpoint," Wade said. "It's just about getting over the hump and obviously in game four we got over the hump and was able to get a convincing win, but none of that means anything anymore. It's a fresh slate for both teams."

Boston won 88-80 in the season opener back on October 26, 112-107 on Nov. 11, and 85-82 on Feb. 13.

Holiday's teammate Spencer Hawes also believes the Heat will have a tough matchup with the Celtics, particularly if they do not get any help from their big three.

"Obviously they have the talent," Hawes said of the Heat. "What it comes down to for them is the other guys. When they are going up against Boston, they have a designated closer and if they lean on those three as heavily as they had to in this series I think that's going to be a lot of pressure on their next round."

Chalmers' 20-point performance was a step in the right direction in the Heat's quest for receiving contribution from other players, but it is still a major question mark.

Three veterans expected to contribute have seen their roles drop drastically as starting point guard Mike Bibby and starting center Zydrunas Ilgauskas each played only 4½ minutes against the Sixers. Swingman Mike Miller didn't see any action for the third consecutive game.

In addition, only six players played over nine minutes, an interesting tactic by Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra.

The group of role players, or "the other guys", could benefit from the return of Udonis Haslem, who has not played since Nov. 20 due to tearing a tendon on his left foot. Haslem practiced on back-to-back days Tuesday and Wednesday for the first time and could be ready in time for the series against the Celtics.

"Yesterday and today was the first real significant step of progress that he's had," Spoelstra said. "He is making steps. We're not quite there yet. This is a good step. At least now there is some daylight at the end of the tunnel."

Even if Haslem returns, it's hard to say what kind of impact he can make, but he's a vital leader and energy guy -- something the Heat could benefit from going into a tough series.

"I think this is a matchup that all the fans will enjoy and are looking forward to," Spoelstra said. "Players on both sides are looking forward to it. We understand where we are in this league and we understand where the Celtics are. They have proven themselves. If we want to get anywhere we want to go and the goals we set for ourselves, we have to go through them.

"It wouldn't be right if we didn't play them."

Sounds like someone is hungry. It must be lunch time.


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