NBA Playoffs 2023-24: No. 1 Boston Celtics vs. No. 8 Miami Heat series preview, picks and predictions

Eastern Conference – No. 1 Celtics vs. No. 8 Heat

The No. 1 vs. No. 8 matchup in the Eastern Conference sees the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat clash in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs. Keep reading for a preview and prediction for this series. And be sure to check out our NBA Playoffs Betting Guide, which will serve as the hub for all our postseason betting! Also check out our NBA Playoffs Betting Primer, which includes tons of in-depth analysis for the entire postseason.

Preview Celtics vs. Heat Series

A rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals from a year ago sounds fun in theory, but these are clearly very different circumstances for both Boston and Miami. Without Jimmy Butler on the floor, the Heat will be going head-to-head as they face one of the most statistically dominant teams in NBA history.

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Prices for this series vary, but no matter where you look, the Celtics are a huge favorite. DraftKings has the cheapest price on Boston to win the series at -3000 (96.8%). Other stores range from -7200 (98.6%) to -10,000 (99.0%). It would be a historic setback if Miami were to pull this off, but the team affectionately known as the “Zombie Heat” has done some surprising things before under head coach Erik Spoelstra.

Where the series will be decided is on defense for Miami. The Heat rolled out their amoebic zone defense again in their play-in win over the Bulls, holding them to 0.885 points per possession in non-trash time. The 76ers ultimately averaged 1,129 points per possession in their win, but turned it over on 17.2% of their possessions. The Celtics will see a lot of this zone defense, but they have the personnel to break it down.

One of the disadvantages of a zone defense is the high number of three-point attempts it allows. If a team can shoot over the top of the zone, it can take a team out of their defense. Philadelphia and Chicago combined for 73 attempts from beyond the arc in non-waste, but the teams shot 31.5% on those attempts. Shooting won’t be a problem for Boston.

The Celtics were the best shooting team of the regular season. They made 43.7% of their attempts from beyond the arc and shot 39.3% on those attempts. Sam Hauser (42.4%), Jrue Holiday (42.9%) and Al Horford (41.9%) were all better than 40% 3-point shooters. Derrick White, Peyton Pritchard, Jayson Tatum and Kristaps Porzingis were all better than 37% shooters. If forced to play in Miami’s zone, Boston should be able to break it quickly.

Zone defenses can slow down games. There’s certainly a chance that Boston’s offense will be tested at times in this series, but it’s a test it should pass with ease. The Celtics averaged 1,205 points per possession this season and posted a net rating of +15.7.

The Celtics are also an extremely capable defensive team. They limited opponents to 112.0 points per 100 possessions in non-trash time, the third-best defensive rating this season. Boston has two elite perimeter defenders in Jrue Holiday and Derrick White who will be more than capable of handling Tyler Herro or Terry Rozier should the latter be available to play in this series. Miami is a poor offensive team that averages 110.8 points per 100 possessions without Butler on the floor. That will probably remain the case in this series.

Boston is the much better team in this series – a fact reflected in the series price – and it is looking for revenge after losing to Miami in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics should be highly motivated to end this series quickly and with authority. There are many who probably believe the Heat can extend this run due to past success, but this team is incapable of doing that. Expect the Celtics to roll in the first round.

Lean: Celtics wins series 4-0 (+125)