THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Heat is on Celtics to secure the No. 2 seed

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / April 10, 2011

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Doc Rivers would love to trust logic in this situation.

Logically, the Celtics should be going into Miami today with something to prove.

Thursday’s loss in Chicago was crushing, especially to their egos. A loss to the Heat would be similarly devastating, dropping them to third place in the East, after their grip on the top spot seemed like a stranglehold barely more than a month ago.

A loss would mean that two of the teams they’ll likely have to get through to get to the Finals again will go into the playoffs feeling as if the defending conference champions are not just mortal, but perhaps vulnerable.

The second seed will be up for grabs today at AmericanAirlines Arena, and even though logic says the Celtics should have a heightened sense of urgency, from what he’s seen from his team over the last month, Rivers isn’t sure he can trust logic.

“Logically, yes is the answer,’’ he said. “Do I anticipate that? Yes. We talked about it the last couple games and we’ve shown it in spots and it does bother me because if we had done our job this would have been decided.’’

After an 89-83 win in Milwaukee March 6, the Celtics had a three-game lead over Chicago and a four-game edge over Miami. Since then, they’re 9-9, dropping home games to the Clippers, Grizzlies, and Bobcats, and losing on the road to Philadelphia, New Jersey, Houston, Indiana, Atlanta, and Chicago. Now, like the Heat, the Celtics are four games behind the Bulls, forced to settle after their goal at the start of the season was the top seed and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

“We put ourselves in this position and you’re going to get an extremely hungry team in Miami, for a lot of reasons,’’ Rivers said. “Even if it was clinched, they would be, because we’ve beaten them three times. We’re going into a hornets nest and we’re going to have to deal with it.’’

Miami has won four of its last five games and nine of its last 11, looking like a different team than the one that lost the three previous meetings with the Celtics this season. After watching the MVP front-runner Derrick Rose put on a show Thursday night, the Celtics will have to deal with two more candidates. LeBron James is averaging 28.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 7.2 assists in his last 10 games, and after sitting out the Heat’s loss to the Bucks Wednesday, Dwyane Wade scored 27 points in Friday’s win over the Bobcats.

After missing 7 of his 13 shots, including 4 of 5 3-pointers, and getting to the line just twice against the Bulls, Paul Pierce bounced back Friday night against the Wizards, largely by attacking at all costs.

“I know we’ll be ready,’’ Pierce said. “A lot more ready than what we were for Chicago. Definitely.’’

Rivers is confident, but cautious.

“I feel good,’’ he said. “We’ll see. When we play well we can beat anybody. When we play poorly we can lose to anybody.’’

The hype surrounding the game is less than that of the season-opening spectacle between the teams. But the stakes are higher.

“That’s what we’re playing for, the home-court advantage, not only for the first round but hopefully if we see them in the second round, we can get the home-court advantage,’’ said Pierce. “It’s huge.’’

Shaquille O’Neal was not on the team flight to Miami and will miss both today’s game and tomorrow’s matchup with the Wizards in Washington. Jermaine O’Neal, who sat out Friday’s game, made the trip, as did Von Wafer.

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