The NBA Conference Finals will finally get underway tonight, with the Eastern Conference taking center stage as top seed Miami Heat hosts the Boston Celtics tonight with tip slated for 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. Miami has been idle since dispatching the Philadelphia 76ers 99-90 on Thursday night. Meanwhile, Boston is coming off a hard-fought, seven-game series against the defending-champion Milwaukee Bucks. Although, the Celtics did run away with Game 7 as Grant Williams tossed in 27 points, with 21 of those coming on seven 3’s. This is the second time that the Heat and Celtics are meeting in the Eastern Conference finals in the last three years. Miami defeated Boston 4-2 in the 2020 event before winning the NBA title.
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This should be a fantastic series, pitting top-seeded Miami against No. 2 Boston. However, Game 1 could be a little messy given that Miami has had four days off and Boston is coming off a grueling seven-game series that was highly physical. The Heat closed the series with the 76ers on Thursday, while the Celtics dispatched the Bucks on Sunday.
Boston is 8-3 during the playoffs. The Celtics swept the Nets in Round 1 before being taken to the brink by the Bucks. They have been all right offensively but pretty good on the defensive end. Boston averages 108.5 points on 45.4% shooting from the field, and it has made 14.5 3-pointers a game at a 37% clip during the postseason. Defensively, Boston allows 101.8 points on 44.8% shooting from the field and 32.9% from beyond the arc. Rebounding and fouling have been an issue for them.
Meanwhile, Miami is 8-3 during the postseason. The Heat have had a relatively easy time in the first two series, defeating the Hawks in five before taking care of the 76ers. They have an NBA-best plus-9.6-point differential. Miami is the only playoff team to rank in the top five in offensive and defensive rankings. The Heat average 107.1 points on 46.1% shooting from the field, although their 3-point shooting has been inconsistent, as they are making 11.6 3-pointers at a 32.1% clip. The Heat have been fantastic defensively, allowing an NBA-best 97.6 points while limiting their opponents to 44.1% shooting from the field and 33.2% shooting from beyond the arc. Three-point shooting is a bit of a concern for them, but they are a good rebounding team and force a lot of turnovers.
Miami is much deeper than Boston, particularly in the backcourt, even without Kyle Lowry (hamstring). The Heat will also be more rested, playing at home and will be the better rebounding team. One of the league’s best home teams, the Heat are 6-0 during the postseason with a plus-18 point scoring margin. Plus, they get after it on the defensive end. OddsShopper gives Miami a 55% chance of winning the game and a 52% chance of covering the spread.
The key for the Heat will be to control the paint and the boards. They will also have to create turnovers and get out and run whenever possible. The key matchups will be Jimmy Butler versus Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown versus Tyler Herro. Butler and Brown played well in the teams’ three matchups during the regular season, in which the Celtics took two-of-three.
Lowry is out for Game 1 of the series and has appeared in just five postseason games this year. The Celtics may be without Marcus Smart (foot), though they will have Robert Williams available. Williams has not played the last four games, but he could have played in Game 7 against the Bucks. Ime Udoka did not want to disrupt his rotation.
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Best NBA Bet Today: Heat Spread (-1.5) Over Celtics
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While Miami has not been great in the first quarter throughout the year, this bet has more to do with Boston’s slow starts. Do not expect a lot of points in the frame, as both teams ranked in the top six in the league in scoring differential for the quarter. Miami against the spread (-0.5) is an even-money bet.
Miami has been much better getting off to quick starts in the postseason, particularly at home. Plus, Boston is a little travel weary lately, which could be a particular problem some in the early going of tonight’s game.
The Heat have the third-best scoring differential in the playoffs during the 12 minutes of action (+2.6). However, that number balloons to 5.5 points at FTX Arena. In six playoff games in Miami, the Heat average 27 points on 46.2% shooting from the field and 36.0% shooting from beyond the arc. Butler leads the way for them by tallying nearly 7 points over the first 12 minutes of action. But it has been on the defensive end where they have thrived, as Miami is holding their opponents to 23 points a game for the quarter on 40.2% shooting from the field and 27.1% from the 3-point line.
Meanwhile, Boston has a negative point differential in the first quarter on the road. The Celtics have been relatively slow starters offensively, averaging 25.5 points on just 41.4% shooting from the field through the first 12 games. Moreover, Miami is 6-5 against the spread in the first quarter in the postseason, including 4-2 against the spread at home. Overall, the Heat are 25-21-1 against the spread at FTX Arena. Conversely, the Celtics are 4-6-1 against the spread in the opening 12 minutes in the playoffs.
Best NBA Bet Today: Heat Moneyline Over Celtics First Quarter
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Brown has been a consistent rebounder over the last three years, averaging at least six a game in each season. He has been even more diligent hitting the glass in the postseason the past couple of years. Brown averages 6.5 rebounds this postseason, as he has grabbed six or more boards in six of his last eight appearances. Brown has also totaled 19 rebounds in three regular season games against the Heat. He is projected for 7.07 rebounds tonight. OddsShopper gives the over a 71% chance of hitting with an expected ROI of 28%.
Best NBA Player Prop Bet Today: Jaylen Brown Over 5.5 Rebounds
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