MIAMI — Their rivalry has often featured heavyweights throwing haymakers, but Friday’s game will be nothing more than a slap fight.
The fourth and final regular-season matchup between the Celtics and Heat, teams that loathe each other to the core, may be without most of the players who often make their games worth watching.
The Celtics brought their horses to South Beach, but are keeping Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in the stable because of sore ankles, the team announced Thursday. They have been more apt to rest their 35-and-older star duo as the playoffs near.
Garnett recently missed eight games and Pierce missed two. The Celtics are 0-3 without Pierce this season and 5-6 without Garnett.
As for the Heat, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh (as well as Udonis Haslem) sat out Wednesday’s win over the Wizards to rest, and it’s unclear if any will play against Boston, although Wade told the Associated Press he plans to return after missing six games with knee soreness.
The Heat have locked up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, and is in cruise control.
“It’ll be an interesting game, because who knows who they’ll play?” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after his team’s 101-93 loss to the Nets Wednesday night at TD Garden.
Rivers then asked if the game was being televised nationally.
When told it was on NBA TV, Rivers smiled, a subtle sign that the Celtics would sit out Garnett and/or Pierce, even against a bitter rival.
Rivers did say he would bring everybody on the brief two-game road trip — they play Saturday at Orlando — but wouldn’t play everybody in both games.
“I think everybody should play every game,” Rivers said. “I really do. But it’s not the team we have. With the ages of the guys we have, you just can’t take the chance.”
It’s uncertain whether Garnett or Pierce will play against the Magic, but the Celtics need one more win to lock up the seventh seed and avoid Miami in the first round of the playoffs. And a game against the 20-59 Magic is perhaps the most winnable left on the Celtics’ schedule.
Rivers reiterated Wednesday that the Celtics would like to avoid Miami in the opening round, saying, “We want to play Miami. We do. We would just not like to play them early . . . Clearly, we want to play Miami. We just want to delay it a little bit.”
Rajon Rondo made his first public comments since the season-ending knee injury he suffered Jan. 25.
Rondo, in an interview with ESPN’s Hannah Storm that aired Wednesday night, explained that he was ready to play Jan. 27 against Miami but that something didn’t feel right roughly 30 minutes before tip-off. He then went to a hospital to get an MRI.
“On the way back I heard on the radio, they were like, ‘Rondo might have a torn ACL,’ ” Rondo said. “I’m like, ‘How?’ I’m like, ‘We just got the results, there’s no way possible.’ ”
On the play on which the injury occurred, Rondo said he jumped and made a pass. “I didn’t hear it pop,” he said. “I just thought when I came down, I came down too early and hyperextended my leg, but I thought I could play through it. I didn’t know it was a season-ending injury.”
The All-Star point guard said he has no timetable for a return, though the Celtics have said they expect him to be ready by training camp.
“When I got out of surgery, for three or four weeks nobody said anything about when I’ll be back or when I’ll be able to play,” he said. “They just want me to take it one week at a time and see how I progress from there.
“Everybody’s body is different. Some play a different sport, everybody plays the game [of basketball] differently, so I think an injury like this varies.”
Rondo said he is “in a place where I’m OK with it. I know this is my main focus, just getting healthy.”
There has been a lot of chatter about how the Celtics will play when Rondo returns. Without him, they reverted to an uptempo, share-the-ball scheme, one that resulted in seven straight wins immediately after the injury.
“I just try not to listen too much into it,” Rondo said. “I’m still talking to Danny [Ainge] weekly and Doc all the time. At the same time, I was happy for my teammates. We were winning. I wanted to make the playoffs because I think we were under .500 or right at .500 at the time, so I definitely wouldn’t be rooting against my team.
“And those guys are like my brothers. So, I wished them well. No big deal. I wasn’t jealous or buying into people saying they are better without me. If they are, they are, but for the most part, I’m still a Celtic.”Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.