Riding an eight-game winning streak, the Heat face off Sunday against fellow Eastern Conference championship contender the Boston Celtics at 1:00 p.m. in front of a national TV audience.
It is the Heat's first trip to Boston since a season-opening 88-80 loss in October -- and if the Heat's November loss to Dallas to fall to 9-8 was the nadir of the early part of the season, the October game foreshadowed the team's early stuggles.
While they very nearly pulled out a last-minute comeback that night, they were not a good offensive team and Heat haters had a field day after the loss. ESPN's Bill Simmons said the Big Three wouldn't contend for a title until they established a pecking order, adding that "Wade and LeBron awkwardly coexisted like two lead guitarists jamming at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert" and asserting that Dwyane Wade needed to "admit that LeBron is the better player."
(We hate to admit it, but he was kind of right on that one).
The two also met in November, a 112-107 Boston victory in Miami, but these are two different teams. Prior to opening night Miami's Big Three only played together for three minutes in the first preseason game before Dwyane Wade was shelved with a hamstring injury. They had yet to develop a rhythm as a trio, much less with their supporting cast. Since falling to 9-8, the Heat are an NBA-best 30-6.
Also different for this meeting: the Heat will be entering with sole possession of the best record in the Eastern Conference (39-14), holding a half-game lead over the 38-14 Celtics.
The Heat have played down the matchup heading into Sunday's game, with Wade telling the AP this week, "We just want to see where we're at. It's not as big as everyone seems to be making it."
But when the narrative of this season is written, this game will likely be considered a key development, win or lose.
Some other brief notes before the game:
- Not one Heat beat reporter was able to get a response from Chris Bosh about Scottie Pippen's dismissal of him as not even "half the player of LeBron James." Step it up, beat reporters, we need Bosh's rebuttal to being compared to this kid. Our hopes of Bosh calling Pippen the original Robin must not go unfulfilled.
- LeBron talked down a trash talker in Friday night's win in Detroit, telling one unruly Pistons fan who brought up his mother by name, "I don't care what you say to me. I don't give a [expletive] what you say. But don't be disrespectful." James' two young sons were sitting courtside in Detroit. Now the question becomes, how will he react if he sees Tommy from Quinzee at the TD Garden?
- In other LeBron news, James told beat reporters he will be meeting with league officials during All-Star weekend later this month. The topic of discussion will be the forthcoming negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement to replace the one expiring on June 30. This meeting will probably not directly lead to anything of consequence, but it is interesting that the biggest star in the league (who isn't even the team's union rep - that would be James Jones) gets a private sit-down with NBA officials simply because he is the biggest star in the league. For his part, James has said that he will be mostly listening at this meeting, though he promises not to hold his tongue, either.
David Hill is a Miami native and the former owner of a youth replica Rony Seikaly jersey.