BOSTON (CBSMiami/AP) – The Miami Heat took a heartbreaking loss on Tuesday in Milwaukee but will have to bounce back quickly in Boston as the Celtics may be getting one of their best players back in the lineup.
Isaiah Thomas’ solid effort against the Heat just over two weeks ago helped start a season-best win streak for the Celtics that improved their playoff chances.
Thomas has been out with an injury since that contest, but he’s likely to return to the lineup Wednesday night to face a Miami team he’s played well against in his career.
Boston (31-39) acquired Thomas from Phoenix for Marcus Thornton at the Feb. 19 trade deadline, and he instantly provided a spark. The 5-foot-9 guard has scored at least 20 points in eight of 10 games with the Celtics and has averaged 23.5 over his last four after netting 25 in a 100-90 win over the Heat on March 9.
Thomas, though, has missed eight straight games – including the last four of the Celtics’ season-high five-game winning streak – after suffering a bruised back against Miami. The Celtics endured a three-game skid before beating Brooklyn 110-91 on Tuesday to move one-half game ahead of Charlotte for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot.
Boston was 2 1/2 games out of contention heading into the last meeting with the Heat (32-38), who are now one game ahead of the Celtics in seventh.
Coach Brad Stevens believes Thomas will be ready to play in this matchup.
“(Thomas) is as close to probable as it gets for now,” he said. “We feel good about him playing. He started to do a lot more movement and a lot more working out and shooting.”
Thomas’ average of 21.7 points in six games against the Heat is his best versus any team in his three-plus NBA seasons. He was still with the Suns for Boston’s first two meetings with Miami, a 100-84 loss Dec. 21 and an 83-75 defeat Feb. 1 that came despite the Heat playing both without Dwyane Wade.
Miami, though, has dropped the first two of a four-game trip. After losing 93-75 to Oklahoma City on Sunday, the Heat were outscored 24-9 in the fourth quarter Tuesday and fell to Milwaukee 89-88 on Khris Middleton’s 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“We’ve shown with this group we can bounce back after tough losses,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Wade scored 12 points against the Thunder and finished with 21 against the Bucks after averaging 28.7 over his previous seven. The Heat tied for their fewest fourth-quarter points of the season Tuesday, of which Wade had five.
“It hurts,” Wade said. “We’ve got to get over this one fast and move forward.”
Wade scored 34 points in the last meeting with the Celtics, who are hoping Evan Turner can build off another solid performance. Turner is averaging 19.7 points and shooting 57.8 percent over his last three after recording his second triple-double of the season with 19 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists Monday.
“I grew up playing with the ball in my hands,” Turner said. “That’s why I got drafted so high (No. 2 overall by Philadelphia in 2010). I was playing in that situation (before reaching the NBA).”
Heat center Hassan Whiteside received 10 stitches after suffering a laceration between his middle and ring fingers while trying to block a dunk in the second quarter against the Bucks and didn’t return.
“I can’t feel my hand right now,” Whiteside said. “We’ll see how it feels (Wednesday) and go day to day.”
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