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posted: 5/27/2012 6:25 PM

Previewing the NBA's Eastern Conference finals

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Game 1: Monday at American Airlines Arena, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)

History: Miami beat Boston 4-1 in last year's second round. The Heat lost to Dallas in the NBA Finals.

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Season series: Boston 3-1. The Celtics beat the Heat three times in April, including once in Miami. In the last meeting on April 24, both teams kept most of their stars on the sideline.

Mismatched stars: There's a strong explanation for why Boston seemed to matchup so well against the Heat in the regular season. Two of the Celtics' best players, point guard Rajon Rondo and center Kevin Garnett, play positions where Miami is weakest. Then Paul Pierce can make LeBron James work defensively.

This series will be billed as the last stand for Boston's Big Four. The Celtics seemed to be masters of expending just enough energy to beat Atlanta and Philadelphia in the first two rounds. Will they have enough left in their legs to put together their best effort against Miami? That's the compelling question.

Injury update: Avery Bradley, a quick defender who had been starting at two guard for the Celtics, needs surgery on his left shoulder and is out for the rest of the playoffs. The shoulder was reportedly popping in and out all season. For Miami, Chris Bosh remains sidelined indefinitely with an abdominal strain. He's started riding the stationary bike, but it's possible he won't play at all in this series.

"He's doing a little bit more, (but) he's still indefinite," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "For me, it's my responsibility right now to prepare this team without him."

Dynamic duo: While winning three straight games against Indiana, James and Dwyane Wade were spectacular. Wade averaged 33.0 points and shot 61.5 percent from the field in those three victories, while James contributed 32.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8 assists, while shooting 55.1 percent. As great as those players are, those numbers figure to drop against the Celtics, who will have a better defensive plan and quicker big men than the passive Pacers.

Depth charge: There seems to be little need for five players to stay on the court in this series. Both sides have serious bench issues. After James, Wade and Mario Chalmers (11.3 ppg), Miami's fourth-leading scorer in the playoffs is Mike Miller at 5.3 ppg. Miller has been better from long range, though, hitting multiple 3-pointers in five of 11 playoff contests.

Boston's drop is even more extreme. Pierce, Garnett, Rondo and PF Brandon Bass are playing well. Ray Allen, 36, struggling on a bad ankle, averaged 8.9 points and shot 26.5 percent from 3-point range against the 76ers. The Celtics' leading scorers off the bench in the playoffs are Mickael Pietrus at 3.7 points, then Keyon Dooling at 2.3.

Prediction: The feeling here is Boston will put together a strong challenge before the Big Three era ends. Miami in 7 games.

-- Mike McGraw

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