Celtics, trying to get past internal strife, face sizzling Heat

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The Miami Heat are quickly making believers across the NBA after sprinting out to an impressive 6-1 start.

The Heat aim for their sixth straight win on Thursday against the visiting Boston Celtics, who snapped a three-game losing streak with a 92-79 win over the Orlando Magic on Wednesday.

While the Celtics are searching for an identity under new coach Ime Udoka, the Heat boast a stifling defense that has many predicting a deep postseason run.

“I would consider them the best team in the league right now,” Dallas Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said of Miami. “They’re playing at a very, very high level. They’ve been together and they know what it takes to win.”

Four Miami players scored at least 22 points — a first in franchise history — on Tuesday in a 125-110 win over the Mavericks, who trailed 20-9 after seven minutes.

Tyler Herro scored 25 points off the bench in the victory while Jimmy Butler added 23 points. Kyle Lowry had 22 points and Bam Adebayo contributed 22 points and 13 rebounds.

Miami has prevailed by double digits in each of its six wins while holding opponents to 98.9 points per game, the lowest average in the NBA.

Butler is averaging 25 points, 6.9 rebounds and 5.6 assists to lead the Heat, whose 6-1 start is their best since the 2012-13 championship season.

Miami’s defense poses a tough matchup for Boston, which blew a 19-point lead Monday in a 128-114 loss to the Chicago Bulls.

The Celtics submitted an improved effort against Orlando on Wednesday. Jaylen Brown scored 28 points, Jayson Tatum added 14 and Al Horford tallied 12 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.

Brown made 10 of 17 shots and had his fifth 20-point game of the season.

After Monday’s loss, guard Marcus Smart said Brown and Tatum need to pass the ball more in order for the team’s offense to flourish.

“Every team knows we are trying to go to Jayson and Jaylen, and every team is programmed and studies to stop Jayson and Jaylen,” Smart said. “I think everybody’s scouting report is to make those guys try to pass the ball. They don’t want to pass the ball, and that’s something that they’re going to learn.”

ESPN reported that the Celtics held a players-only meeting prior to Wednesday’s contest, but Udoka downplayed any internal tension.

“Some of the things he said are things we talk about every day,” the first-year coach said. “I’ve preached that from day one. Jayson and Jaylen are guys growing in that area, being playmakers, so it’s stuff we’re constantly showing on film, talking about, so it’s nothing new as far as what we have shown and done, and they’ve done a great job in those areas.”

Udoka added, “Marcus, Jayson and Jaylen have a long history together, and every team I’ve ever been on has had moments when they butt heads. It’s nothing we haven’t talked about.”

Boston, which has lost its past two meetings against Miami, continues to tinker with a rotation that includes guard Dennis Schroder. The veteran is averaging 13.3 points and six assists off the bench.

–Field Level Media

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