With last nightís 85-75 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, the Boston Celtics are set to meet the Miami Heat in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals. The series will be a rematch of last yearís Eastern Conference Semifinals, in which Miami toppled Boston in a mere 5 games. Will history repeat itself when the two teams square off this year, or will Bostonís age and experience allow them to overcome Miamiís physical freakishness? Below are some important questions to consider heading in to the series, complete with my prediction as to how it will all turn out:
1. How much will age, rest, and injuries factor into the series?
Boston is off to an immediate disadvantage, being forced to play on the road to start the series after just one dayís rest. The Heat, on the other hand, have had four days to rest up since beating Indiana in their Semifinal matchup. I believe this will make it very hard for Boston to steal Game 1, and will likely give Miami a head start heading into the rest of the series.
Age is another important factor, with Boston being significantly older and creakier than Miami. Although the likes of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett have been known to elevate their games come crunch time, one has to wonder how many more surges those two have left in their bodies. Miami, meanwhile, sports some of the most physically primed athletes ever assembled on one team, and will likely look to exploit their youth and vigor to overwhelm the ancient Celtic squad.
Lastly, a lot of this series could come down to which team stays healthy. Both Miami and Boston have battled injury concerns this season, so keeping their players in top shape could be a major factor in determining which team advances to the Finals.
2. Who can control the tempo?
Boston is a savvy and meticulous half-court team. Miami thrives on an explosive fastbreak. Whichever squad is able to control the pace of the game will have a huge advantage on the court.
Tempo is often dictated by defense, and both teams have exceptional defensive resumes. If Miami can use their length and athleticism to force turnovers and acquire easy fastbreak points, Boston will have their hands full trying to keep up. On the other hand, if Boston slows Miami down and forces them to move the ball around to look for points, the Celtics could take Miami out of their comfort zone and force them to make some critical mistakes.
One x-factor with regards to tempo is the distinct advantage the Celtics have at the point guard position. Rajon Rondo has continued to blossom into one of the best point men in the league, and his triple-double in Game 7 against Philadelphia was no exception. If Rondo can become a major factor in games, and is able to dictate the pace of the game for his team, Boston will have a chance to make Miami uncomfortable, and possibly steal a game or two from them at home.
3. Will Miami beat itself?
I am one of those people who believes that the Heat really should never lose. Their combination of size, athleticism, and skill is almost terrifying, and when they are firing on all cylinders they appear unstoppable. Somehow, however, the Heat manage to find ways to completely underachieve, and that could be the one thing that does them in against Boston in this series.
As long as Miami stays healthy, avoids mental errors, and operates efficiently in crunch-time, I believe they will win this series handily. That means no Udonis Haslem meltdowns, no LeBron media fiascoes (like mocking Dirk Nowitzkiís cough in the finals last year), and no D-Wade/Erik Spoelstra fights. They also must protect the ball at all times, and have a clear game plan as to who takes the final shots. If Miami stays clean on the mental side of the game, their physical advantage will take care of ensuring on-court success.
If any of you read my UFC 146 prediction in which I went three-for-three on predicting the outcomes of last nightís fights, you will know I am on a roll. Hereís hoping that momentum continues as I lock in the following official prediction:
Miami finally becomes the Heat team weíve all been waiting for and runs all over the Celtics. Boston manages to steal two games on the merits of their veteran craftiness, but the series never really feels close.
MIAMI IN SIX.
Thatís my take on the 2012 NBA Eastern Conference Finals. Who do YOU think will win? Miami or Boston?
----------------- Noah Weber is a regular sports blog contributor to Operation Sports. Catch his posts on operationsports.com, or follow him on Twitter @gobluenoah.