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Three things to look for as the shorthanded Celtics face the Heat

This is a tough game for several reasons, but the Celtics tend to rise to the occasion in difficult situations.

NBA: Miami Heat at Boston Celtics
Tyler Herro looks for a teammate as Al Horford and Derrick White defend.
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a setback against the Monstars (sorry, Orlando Magic) – one that abruptly curbed their nine-game winning streak – the shorthanded Celtics (35-13) will face the Miami Heat (26-22) on the road Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

This is a tough game for several reasons. For starters, it’s the second half of a back-to-back. That’s difficult regardless, but it’s especially tricky when the injury report is changing almost daily (sometimes hourly).

Boston will be without catalysts Malcolm Brogdon (personal reasons), Jaylen Brown (right adductor injury management), Al Horford (low back stiffness) and Marcus Smart (right ankle sprain) Tuesday.

The Celtics are also up against an opponent that’s starting to return to form.

This Miami team isn’t currently quite as potent as the group that took the Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals last year, but it’s much more potent than the one that started the season 12-15.

The Heat have won five of seven and are a season-high four games above .500. They’re starting to resemble the team they were last year, which isn’t necessarily ideal timing for a shorthanded Celtics squad.

This is the fourth and final regular season meeting – Boston has taken two of three – and it’s quite possible they’ll meet again in the playoffs. First, here’s a look at Tuesday’s matchup.

Who will rise to the challenge with several players out?

Give the Magic plenty of credit – they won that game, the Celtics didn’t lose it – but it would have likely unfolded differently with a full Celtics roster.

Tuesday’s injury report is even more bleak. The players listed (Smart, Brogdon, Brown, Danilo Gallinari and Al Horford) would make a great lineup.

Who starts the game? Who finishes it? How many minutes does Sam Hauser play? Does Mfiondu Kabengele get even more run? How about JD Davison?

Payton Pritchard played 31 against Orlando. Will he have to do so again? It’s safe to say he wouldn’t mind. Will Jayson Tatum drop 50? He might have to.

Those people who say the regular season is too long are annoying, because clearly, the more basketball the better. But, they may have a slight point. There are so many games, so it’s inevitable that stars and key role players may have to sit some out.

Well, except Derrick White, who has channeled his inner Cal Ripken Jr. this season.

Which style prevails?

The Celtics have scored 111, 134 and 116 points in their matchups with the Heat this year. Miami only allowed more than 107 once in the ECF.

Obviously the defense intensifies in the playoffs, but the Celtics have generally dictated the flow when they’ve met this season. It will be interesting to monitor which team’s style prevails Tuesday.

The Celtics are second in the NBA in points per game (118.1) and third in offensive rating (117). Miami is last in points (108.6), 26th in offensive rating (111) and 28th in pace (97.1).

A high-scoring game should, in theory, benefit the Celtics. Both teams are in the top-6 in defensive rating, so pushing the pace and getting out in transition would behoove Boston.

Can the Celtics keep Bam Adebayo in check?

Bam Adebayo, who was streaky in the ECF, has been extremely consistent against the Celtics this season.

He’s averaging 23.3 points, 7 rebounds and 4.3 assists in the three meetings and has oftentimes been the best player on the floor.

In the playoffs last year, he was brilliant one night (31 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists in a Heat win) and quiet the next (9 points in a Heat loss). His success was often a barometer for how the Heat fared.

He seems to have figured it out this season – again, it’s the regular season, but it’s still noteworthy. When Adebayo is aggressive, the Heat are infinitely more dangerous. When he blends in, they can be come one-dimensional.

Adebayo is averaging 21.8 points and 11.1 rebounds while shooting 55.3 percent in January. Can the Celtics get in his head early and fluster him, or will he continue his recent tear?

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