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NBA playoffs: Celtics vs. Heat in clash of the NBA’s Big Threes

NBA playoffs: The Boston Celtics visit the Miami Heat at the American Airlines Arena Sunday for the first game of their second-round NBA Eastern Division playoff series. Tip-off at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time.

By Christopher HartmanContributor / May 1, 2011

Miami Heat's LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in Game 5 of the NBA playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers in Miami April 27, 2011.

Hans Deryk/Reuters

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LeBron James knows what he wants and is determined to have it. After the Boston Celtics defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games in last year’s NBA Eastern Division quarterfinals, it was inevitable that he’d search for a way to meet them again on playoff hardwood.

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On Sunday afternoon, James will get that rematch. The Miami Heat’s defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of this year's playoffs, and even though it’s an early-round series, the Celtics-Heat matchup promise to be one of the most exciting of the year.

Don't be lulled into complacency from all the hype during last year's television spectacle “LeBron James: The Decision,” and the overindulgent, pyrotechnic introduction of James and his fellow “Big Three” teammates Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in Miami last July.

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Coming into this series, James remains a focused, disciplined and remarkably talented competitor in addition to a master marketer – and has employed all those qualities in rising to the pinnacle of his profession. His 26.7 points per game and 2,111 total points were both second overall in the NBA, and his athleticism and strength are virtually unparalleled in the game.

The James-Wade-Bosh triumvirate has raised Miami from 12 games over .500 (47-35) in the 2009-10 regular season to a record of 58-24 this year. In this way, the team has met expectations – if not exactly becoming “… arguably the best trio to ever play the game of basketball,” as Dwyane Wade said during the Miami introduction ceremony. And with no titles yet to speak of, they have to accomplish much to achieve the multiple titles they were musing about on stage in front of the Miami faithful last summer.

What about the Celtics?

As for Boston, following their relatively weak opening playoff round sweep of the New York Knicks, there were some who suggested they might not get past the second round this year. After all, they finished the season by winning only five of their last 10 games while enduring a mediocre March and April; eked out a couple of last-second playoff wins against the injury-hobbled Knicks, and have been beset with multiple injuries of their own – most notably to their centers Shaquille O’Neal (ankle) and Jermaine O’Neal (knee, wrist).

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