Winderman: Celtics advantages came courtesy Riley, Heat

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Rare is the NBA playoff series when the opposition opens with a 3-0 lead without playing a game.

That, however, essentially, will be the case with the impending Heat-Celtics Eastern Conference semifinal series. The Heat will take on the Celtics with a decided deficit at center, point guard and backup power forward.

In each case, a potential Heat answer can be found on the Celtics’ roster, an answer the Heat had within their grasp at one stage.

At center, the Heat allowed Jermaine O’Neal to walk last summer without as much as a free-agent offer. While O’Neal says he turned down a Heat contract, word from within the Heat was that none was extended. If you look back at last year’s Heat-Celtics first-round playoff series, you probably could appreciate why: O’Neal shot 20.5 percent, averaging 4.2 points and 5.6 rebounds, as if on his last legs.

Yet, you look at O’Neal’s re-emergence against the Knicks and then at the Heat’s current mix in the middle, and it sure seems like advantage Boston, even if Shaquille O’Neal can’t make it all the way back, even with Kendrick Perkins out of the Celtics mix. For the Heat, the choices are current starter Zydrunas Ilgauskas, banished starter Erick Dampier, resident thug Jamaal Magloire and Joel Anthony, a player whose energy is essential to the second unit.

Then there is the issue at point guard, and the frightening things Rajon Rondo is about to do. In March, the Heat summarily dispatched Carlos Arroyo to the waiver wire in order to add Mike Bibby to the mix. Bibby currently can be found in the midst of shooting misery. Beyond that, there is Mario Chalmers, who is wildly on and off again.

While Arroyo is an afterthought for the Celtics, the Heat played their most efficient ball of the season when Arroyo was the starter. Now the Heat will have to face that reality head to head.

Then there is the issue at reserve power forward behind Chris Bosh. With Udonis Haslem yet to make it back from his November foot surgery, the best the Heat can offer as a counter to what Boston delivers in Glen Davis is Juwan Howard. Asked and answered.

But there was another option for the Heat at the buyout deadline, when Pat Riley added Bibby. At the time, Troy Murphy’s options where whittled down to the Heat and Celtics. Danny Ainge won that one, in what currently comes off as more of a blocking move than any overwhelming need for Murphy, who has been bench-bound since.

The irony in Celtics-Heat is that three Boston afterthoughts — O’Neal, Arroyo and Murphy — could have been usable pieces for the Heat in what is about to follow.

Advantage Ainge.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.

For a couple grand, Warriors fans can have Larry O’Brien Trophy visit their suite

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There’s so much money floating around the Bay Area right now thanks to another tech boom, this price almost seems low.

If you have a suite for the Golden State Warriors home games this season — and those are pretty much sold out, the Warriors draw big from the Silicon Valley crowd — you can have the NBA championship Larry O’Brien Trophy visit your suite. All for just a couple grand. From Gilbert Lee, via ESPN’s Darren Rovell.

The best part is it includes champagne… do you get to spray each other with it as you hold up the trophy? Now that would be perfect (goggles included, of course).

Have an issue with this? Why? To the victor goes the spoils. The Warriors may be able to sell this package for years.

Sixers new “Spirit of 76” court is fire

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First, the Sixers nailed the Nike “statement” jersey.

Now, they have announced a new “Spirit of 76” promotion, with seven tribute nights this season honoring the history of the franchise and of the Philadelphia area (and there is plenty of history to honor).

The best part — the “Spirit of 76” court with the bell logo.

Here is the promo vid

I just hope the Sixers team can live up to all the hype.

Wizards’ Markieff Morris to have sports hernia surgery, miss start of camp

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When the Washington Wizards open training camp next Tuesday, starting forward Markieff Morris will not be on the court.

That’s because he will have surgery to repair a sports hernia, a story broken by Candice Buckner of the Washington Post and since confirmed by Chase Hughes at CSNMidAtlantic.com.

While we don’t have details on the surgery, often recovery time for this is just a few weeks, and Morris could well be ready for the start of the season.

Morris averaged 14 points and 6.5 rebounds a game last season, and the Wizards offense was 5.7 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the court last season. With him out, coach Scott Brooks can lean on Jason Smith or Mike Scott for traditional lineups, but don’t be shocked if he tries a little small ball with Otto Porter and/or Kelly Oubre at the three or four.

Morris also is in the midst of a felony assault trial in Arizona (one where he does not need to attend).

Sixers enter camp with Joel Embiid not cleared for 5-on-5, Jahlil Okafor on trade block

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This is the season the 76ers make the leap from team with potential to playoff team fast on the rise.

Maybe.

That’s the plan in Philly, but there are a lot of questions for this team to answer. While a couple of these issues are answered already — Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz are cleared to play and practice with teammates — a couple big ones still hang around. At the top of the list is “how healthy is Joel Embiid?” Coach Brett Brown doesn’t even have that answer yet, reports Derek Bodner of The Athletic.

It’s this simple: The Sixers outscored opponents by 3.3 points per 100 possessions when Embiid was on the court last season, he was a dominant force defensively who scored 20.2 points a game. When he was off the court the Sixers were 11.5 points per 100 possessions worse. They need him to play and play consistently if the Sixers have playoff dreams. It’s unclear when Embiid will return, but know that the Sixers will be cautious with his minutes again when he does get cleared (he has played just 31 games in three seasons).

Does that mean more Jahlil Okafor? Maybe not, the Sixers are still willing to trade him.

The Sixers have shopped Okafor for most of a year and found no deal they like. Okafor battled knee issues last season and, after a summer working to get healthy, other teams will want to see him play a little before talking trade. If he comes to camp slimmed down and his knee looks right, it could revive trade talks. Using a back-to-the-basket game, he averaged 11.8 points a night shooting 51 percent last season, he’s efficient, and some teams could use what he does (off the bench).

It’s going to be an interesting season in Philly. Are they playoff bound?