BOSTON It's that time of year when NBA teams like the Boston Celtics are trying to fine-tune their lineup and clean up a few areas so that they can be ready to roll come playoff time.
The C's defense has been strong all season, but head coach Doc Rivers has seen enough cracks of late to be somewhat worried.
"We have played great defense, but I think it's been spurt defense the last three or four games," Rivers said. "I want us to get back to being as solid defensively as we were three or four games ago."
Among the video that the Celtics watched prior to Monday's practice, they saw the minor mistakes and miscues that by themselves don't mean much.
But in a playoff series, every play botched could be the difference between advancing to the next round or heading home early for the summer.
"We could see slippage," Rivers said. "We needed film (on Monday). It's good for us. We needed that."
So would a strong showing tonight against a Miami Heat team that, like the Celtics, will look at various ways to rest players prior to the playoffs. All of the Miami Heat players went through the team's morning shoot-around on Tuesday. As far as who will or will not play, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said that will be a game-time decision.
More consistent play defensively will certainly be a factor in tonight's game. Here are some other keys to tonight's game.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR With both teams resting key guys, bench play becomes essential. Scoring against the Celtics has been difficult for most teams this season. But for playoff-bound clubs, bench scoring has indeed been a luxury that few have enjoyed. This season, the Celtics are giving up just 22.5 bench points to playoff-bound teams which ranks second in the NBA. Miami has one of the NBA's better defenses as well, but opposing benches are getting 31.5 points which ranks 15th in the NBA.
MATCHUP TO WATCH Udonis Haslem vs. Brandon Bass: Inserting Haslem into the starting lineup gives the Heat some much-needed toughness. However, Bass will be a tough cover for Haslem because of his ability to stretch defenses with his mid-range game. Bass ranks fifth in the NBA in shots taken (273) between 15-19 feet. He's shooting 48.7 percent on those shots, which is better than the four players (Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, Carlos Boozer and Russell Westbrook) ahead of him.
PLAYER TO WATCH Mario Chalmers remains a bit of a mystery in terms of his impact on the Heat. For Miami to have the kind of season they envision, they'll need him to become a more consistent threat both as a scorer and as a playmaker. With Rajon Rondo possibly not playing tonight, this will be Chalmers' chance to shine. But if he struggles against the Celtics' second unit players, the C's will have planted yet another seed of doubt in the Heat's head.
STAT TO TRACK The Boston Celtics have had their issues on the boards all season, as have the Miami Heat who rank 18th in the league this season while the C's are dead-last. However, it hasn't been as big an issue for the Heat who are giving up a league-low 39.7 rebounds per game. The C's are better at limiting opponents rebounds as well. Opponents are averaging 43.1 rebounds per game against the C's which ranks 21st in the NBA. Rebounding has been a factor in all three meetings between these two teams. In their first matchup on Dec. 27, Boston lost the game and was out-rebounded, 38-28. In the last two games, both wins for the Celtics, they won the battle of the boards 49-47 and 40-34, respectively.