Celtics vs. Heat Preview: Back Miami to Cover 5th Game In a Row

Action Network NBA analyst Roberto Arguello breaks down Thursday's Celtics vs. Heat matchup and shares why he's betting the dominant Heat to cover again.

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Celtics vs. Heat Odds

Celtics Odds +6
Heat Odds -6
Over/Under 214.5
Time 7:30 p.m. ET
Odds via Caesars. Get up-to-the-minute NBA odds here.

The Miami Heat host the Boston Celtics on Thursday night in a matchup between two teams that are ascending and descending.

After the Heat were swept by the Bucks in the first round of the playoffs, they added Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker, and these moves have paid off as the Heat have the best record in the Eastern Conference at 6-1 after beating the Mavericks 125-110 on Tuesday.

The Celtics were also quickly eliminated in the first round of last season’s playoffs, but they have come out of the gates slowly this season at just 3-5 through eight games after beating the Magic 92-79 on Wednesday.

The Heat are favored by six points on Thursday night in Miami in a rematch of the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals in the bubble.

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Can Tatum Take the Celtics to Another Level?

If the Celtics cover or upset the Heat, they need their offense to improve with more cohesive play while Jayson Tatum has a big night. The Celtics will be at full strength as no one is listed on the injury report.

After blowing a 19-point second half lead on Monday night, Marcus Smart spoke about how the Celtics need their offense to be more cohesive instead of it being dominated by stagnant isolation sets for Tatum and Jaylen Brown, which is easier for the defense to force them into tougher shots.

This isn’t a revelation for those who have followed this Celtics team since the bubble, and they will face a stiff task in improving their offense against an elite Heat defense.

The Celtics had a players only meeting on Wednesday before their game against the Magic as a result of Smart’s public comments. Although their offense scored just 92 points (with an offensive rating of 102.4), their defense held the Magic to just 79 points in the win.

In addition to playing with better ball and player movement, the Celtics need Tatum to play better than he has so far this season. After finishing last season in the 60th percentile among forwards with 116.0 points per 100 shots, Tatum ranks in just the 12th percentile this season as he has scored 94.6 points per 100 shots (excluding garbage time, per Cleaning The Glass).

While Tatum has moderately increased his shooting accuracy in the midrange, he has dipped significantly in accuracy at the rim (down from 68% to 49%) and also beyond the arc (from 39% to 27%). He will be looking to bounce back after scoring 14 points on four of 16 from the field on Wednesday.

Tatum will need to be aggressive in getting higher quality shots at the rim and beyond the arc for himself and his teammates instead of settling for contested jumpers against a Heat defense that has more capable individual defenders than just about any other defense in the NBA.

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Heat on Fire on Both Ends

If the Miami Heat win and cover on Thursday night, it will be because they have an efficient shooting night from beyond the arc or they limit one or both of Smart and Tatum.

KZ Okpala (ankle) is questionable to play while Max Strus (knee) is out for a couple weeks. Victor Oladipo (quadriceps) remains out indefinitely.

The Heat are 6-1 because of their stingy defense that leads the league in Defensive Rating at 98.6 (excluding garbage time, per Cleaning The Glass). However, the Heat also have the best Offensive Rating (115.4), Spread Differential (+13.6) and Point Differential (+16.8, per Cleaning The Glass).

Reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Jimmy Butler has been the catalyst for the Heat. The additions of Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker have been huge for the Heat as they complement Butler and Adebayo incredibly well. Consequently, Butler has looked like an MVP candidate through seven games while Adebayo has established himself as a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

Lowry’s on-ball presence allows Butler to play to his strengths as an off-ball defender lurking in the passing lanes. Lowry’s court vision has been valuable in transition as he pushes the pace so that Adebayo and Butler (who aren’t efficient from beyond the arc) can utilize their athleticism to get easy buckets closer to the rim without a set defense.

Tyler Herro has been another big reason why the Heat have taken a step forward this season. The third-year guard has been a walking bucket this season as he ranks second on the team with 22.4 points per game despite coming off the bench. He ranks in the 80th percentile or higher in midrange shooting accuracy and 3-point accuracy on above the break 3s (per Cleaning The Glass).

With Lowry playing the point, Herro has taken the next step as a scorer as he can focus on getting buckets instead of being a facilitator and scorer as he was asked to do for much of last season.

The Heat have surprisingly been dominant so far this season without even shooting the ball well as they have made just 32.0% of their 3s, ranking 26th in the league (excluding garbage time, per Cleaning The Glass). Sharpshooting Duncan Robinson has made just 34% of his 3s, and you can expect the Heat’s 3-point shooting to rise as Robinson’s efficiency from beyond the arc regresses up to the mean.

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Celtics-Heat Pick

The 21st ranked Celtics offense is looking to find itself, but I won’t be betting on them doing so on the second night of a back-to-back on the road against the best defense in the NBA.

Furthermore, the Celtics are coming off a performance where they scored just 92 points last night against the lowly Magic, who have the second-worst defensive rating (113.4) in the NBA.

The Heat have been head and shoulders above everyone else in the NBA so far this season when Kyle Lowry has been available. Not only have the Heat won all six games Lowry has played in, but they have also won each game by double digits.

Expect this trend to continue on Thursday against the Celtics as the Heat win and cover as six-point favorites. The Celtics offense is relatively easy to defend with Tatum and Brown taking too many contested jumpers, and the Celtics bench doesn’t have the ammunition to keep up with Herro and the Heat.

I like the Heat at -6 at Caesar’s and will bet them confidently down to -7.5 for one unit.

Pick: Heat -6