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MIAMI (SportsDirect Inc.) —  The Boston Celtics have been one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference over the second half of December but suffered a bit of a derailment when they matched up with the conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers. Boston looks to get back on track one night later when it hosts the Miami Heat on Friday in the opener of a four-game homestand.

The Celtics allowed their second-most points of the season in Thursday’s 124-118 loss in Cleveland, only their second defeat in the past eight games but one that was highly disappointing to coach Brad Stevens. “We weren’t connected on defense at all,” Stevens told reporters afterward. “If they have 100 after three quarters, you don’t have a real chance to beat them. We have to play a lot better than that. We got lucky and had a chance at the end, because our guys played really hard and figured out a way and the bench was great.” Miami is experiencing a disappointing season and has lost three straight – six of seven – after suffering a 91-82 setback against the Charlotte Hornets on Thursday. Point guard Goran Dragic (back) returned after a one-game absence and never got untracked while scoring a season-low five points on 2-of-11 shooting.

TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, FSN Sun (Miami), CSN Northeast (Boston)

ABOUT THE HEAT (10-23): Miami’s point total against Charlotte was a season low and it scored under 20 points in three of the quarters, including a meager 16 on 6-of-23 shooting in the final stanza. “They’re a good defensive team, no doubt about it, but I don’t think it was anything they were doing specifically,” Heat guard Tyler Johnson told reporters afterward. “I think we just started to get a little hesitant, which we tend to do a little bit at the end of games instead of just playing how we’ve been playing.” Center Hassan Whiteside is averaging just 10 points during the three-game skid after scoring 20 or more in five of the previous seven games.

ABOUT THE CELTICS (19-14): Star point guard Isaiah Thomas contributed 31 points and nine assists against the Cavaliers and his streak of 17 consecutive 20-point games is the longest current run in the NBA. But when Boston trailed by two points, the ball didn’t end up in Thomas’ hands and it was forward Jae Crowder badly missing a go-ahead 3-point attempt with 8.5 seconds remaining. “I thought it was good,” Crowder told reporters afterward. “I had a good look at it. My coaches had confidence in me to make that. I’ll step into it a 100 more times.”


1. The Celtics registered two victories over the Heat in Miami earlier this season and have won the past five meetings.

2. Boston C Al Horford scored a season-low six points against the Cavaliers and has tallied 11 or fewer in three of the last five contests.

3. Miami F Justise Winslow missed all nine of shots against Charlotte and is 2-of-19 over the past two games.

PREDICTION: Celtics 104, Heat 94


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