Preview: Heat vs. Celtics; Thunder vs. Grizzlies

Express-News staff writer Mike Monroe breaks down the two series starting today:

East semifinals
Miami Heat? vs. Boston Celtics

Season series: Celtics won 3-1.

Key Matchup: LeBron James vs. Paul Pierce — James made only 43 percent of his shots against the Celtics in four regular season games, three of them losses. Pierce has been a playoff monster in seasons past and won’t shrink from this matchup. Then there’s this: before the first Celtics-Heat game in Miami this season, Pierce Tweeted he was “happy to be taking my talents to South Beach.”

Heat can win if: They understand how much better the Celtics have defended the post since Jermaine O’Neal came off the injured list. Their scoring will have to be from the perimeter, and James and Dwyane Wade are just he players to provide it.

Celtics can win if: Shaquille O’Neal can suit up for a game or two and Rajon Rondo can get enough easy looks for Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. Miami is soft in the middle and Shaq is still enormous.

Prediction: Heat in seven

West semifinals
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Memphis Grizzlies

Season series: Grizzlies won 3-1.

Key Matchup: Kendrick Perkins vs. Zach Randolph — Nobody has to convince Spurs fans about Randolph’s emergence as one of the elite power forwards in the league. He dominated in Memphis’ 4-2 first-round upset of the No. 1 seeded team. He will have a hard time getting to the basket against Perkins, one of the league’s meanest post defenders. Both teams may need to hire a cut man. Is Dr. Ferdie Pacheco available?

Thunder can win if: Kevin Durant doesn’t shrink six inches before tipoff of Game 1 and Russell Westbrook remembers to pass occasionally. Sam Young isn’t quick enough to defend him and Tony Allen isn’t big enough. Westbrook is quicker and more athletic than Mike Conley and just needs to remember to share the ball, especially with Durant.

Grizzlies can win if: They check the Thunder’s regular season results and notice the Spurs beat them three times. That ought to be just the jolt of confidence required to convince them they can hang with another team that had a better regular season record. They’ll also need Marc Gasol to rebound as he did against the Spurs in the first round.

Prediction: Thunder in six

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