MIAMI (AP) — LeBron James planned to spend a large part of Saturday studying film, looking for any edge that the Miami Heat may use against the Boston Celtics.
Film from this season, that is.
No need to watch the Celtics inflicting past playoff wounds on him. Those remain fresh — and time has not yet healed them.
The inability to beat Boston is one of the biggest reasons why James is now wearing a Miami Heat uniform. He’ll get a third attempt to top the Celtics in a postseason series starting Sunday when the teams collide in Game 1 of what may easily become an epic Eastern Conference semifinal.
“It is personal,” James said Saturday as the Heat finished practice. “It is. Absolutely right. You don’t want to keeping getting beat by the same team, the same team keep sending you home to plan a vacation. So it is personal.”
The Celtics expected him to say nothing less.
“It would be personal for me,” Boston forward Paul Pierce said. “I’m sure he’s going to take it personal and you’ve got to expect his best.”
Unwittingly or not, the Celtics played a huge role in setting up an offseason unlike any other in NBA history. Boston gave James a big push toward Miami for a strength-in-numbers approach with the Heat that wasn’t possible during the two-time MVP’s stint with the Cavaliers.
Collectively, James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh figure to rate a better chance, and that theory is about to get put to the real test. They left a combined $51 million on the bargaining table last summer, and victory in this best-of-seven series may make that money seem exceptionally well-spent.
“I think you’ve got two really good teams, two teams with a lot of will, two teams with a lot of pride,” Celtics general manager Danny Ainge said. “And I think it’s going to be a great series.”
The Celtics have 17 NBA championship banners, and there’s at least that many story lines for this matchup.
Boston’s Shaquille O’Neal wants to come back from injury for this series, as does Udonis Haslem for Miami. The Heat know they need to find ways of getting Wade going against the Celtics, which didn’t happen in the regular season. Boston wants to exploit what it figures to be a significant edge at point guard with Rajon Rondo over the duo of Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers.
And there’s that small matter of the teams just plain not liking one another.
“Playoffs is a new season,” Boston forward Kevin Garnett said. “New situations, new scenarios. So everything we’ve done up to this point is just history.”
In Miami’s case, the history is not good.
Not only did Boston oust both Wade (in the first round) and James (in the second round) from last year’s playoffs, but the Celtics have won 18 of their last 21 meetings overall against Miami — even after the Heat rolled to a 100-77 win at home on April 10, the lone time they knocked off the defending East kings in four matchups this season.
The dominance has extended into the playoffs, too.
Of the 15 players on Miami’s roster, nine have been ousted from past postseasons by the Celtics, with James and Zydrunas Ilgauskas enduring that fate in both 2008 and 2010 with the Cavaliers. Only one player — James Jones, a reserve with Indiana in 2005 — knows how it feels to beat the NBA’s all-time championship leaders in a playoff series.
“I look forward to the challenge,” Wade said. “I know I haven’t played well against this team. That’s no secret.”
In Boston’s eyes, Miami’s hopes may not be pinned on Wade or James. The Celtics say the key may be Bosh.
Sometimes the forgotten man in the series of megadeals that reshaped the Heat last summer, Bosh had three double-doubles in five games against Philadelphia in the opening round. When he gets to at least 10 points and 10 rebounds, the Heat win at a 77 percent clip (24-7).
“LeBron and Wade are LeBron and Wade,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “They’re going to be great. They were great before the series, they’ll be great during it and they’ll be great after and this summer when you’re talking about it, you’ll say ‘LeBron and Wade are great players.’ That’s not going to change. But when Bosh plays great, then their team is great. And so, he’s a key guy for them.”
Boston hasn’t played for a week since sweeping the New York Knicks out of the first round, and the Heat had slow starts in all five games of their series against Philadelphia.
“We’ve prepared a long time for this,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s time to toss the ball up in the air.”