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.

Report: Raptors’ Delon Wright out a month

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Raptors guard Delon Wright dislocated his shoulder, but at least he won’t need surgery.

Raptors media relations:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Raptors (11-5), off to a surprisingly strong start, are second in the Eastern Conference. They’ve bought themselves margin for error. All in all, a month-long absence for Wright isn’t so bad.

Wright had been a key part of an excellent all-bench unit that included Fred VanVleet, O.G. Anunoby, C.J. Miles and Jakob Poeltl. Two-way player Lorenzo Brown has assumed Wright’s role, and Norman Powell – returning from his own injury – will provide a boost. Toronto can also stagger Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan more.

The chemistry of the bench mob was something to behold, but the Raptors should withstand this.

Report: Clippers PG Patrick Beverley out rest of season

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Clippers point guard Patrick Beverley underwent knee surgery – never a great sign.

The prognosis is about as bad as could be expected.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This injury isn’t just a setback for this season. It could derail the Clippers’ long-term plan.

They’ve already lost nine straight, and Danilo Gallinari and Milos Teodosic are injured. If they fall further out of playoff position, they could become sellers before the trade deadline, especially with DeAndre Jordan ($24,119,025 player option for next season) and Lou Williams ($7 million salary on expiring contract).

Health was always the major question with this team, and it won’t soften as Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari age through lucrative contracts.

The final year of Beverley’s contract is guaranteed for just $5,027,028 next season, and the 29-year-old will spend most of the summer recovering from this injury. That salary is probably low enough that the Clippers will keep him without hesitation.

Until then, down a couple point guards, the Clippers have no choice but to continue leaning more on Austin Rivers. That also means greater roles for second-round rookies Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell. That’s just too many players facing outsized responsibility.

The Pelicans, Grizzlies, Jazz and any other team competing for the final playoff spots in the Western Conference ought to feel better about their chances. They’re still competing with each other, and it’s doubtful all three make it. But Beverley’s injury helps clear the way.

The Clippers, who didn’t want to take a major step back after Chris Paul‘s departure, must confront an even more uneasy reality.

Giannis Antetokounmpo out for Bucks-Suns Eric Bledsoe revenge game

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Giannis Antetokounmpoone of the NBA’s best players – won’t help new Bucks teammate Eric Bledsoe in a revenge game against the Suns tonight.

Not only is Milwaukee missing Mirza Teletovic and John Henson (and Matthew Dellavedova and Jabari Parker), Antetokounmpo is out.

Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Antetokounmpo will miss Wednesday’s game against the Phoenix Suns due to right knee soreness.

Antetokounmpo says his knee soreness is the same injury he dealt with in the off-season, which caused him to withdraw from the Greek national team.

“It feels good,” Antetokounmpo said after sitting out shootaround. “I’m just trying to be careful with it and not make any damage. That’s it, because it’s a long season and I’m trying to be careful.”

The Bucks have been outscored by 18.6 points per 100 possessions without Antetokounmpo this season (and are +2.3 without him). Phoenix isn’t good, but neither is Milwaukee without Antetokounmpo.

I don’t think Bledsoe will mind a chance to get more aggressive tonight, though.

Report: Mexico City could host NBA’s 31st minor-league team

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said his league would look into placing a franchise in Mexico City.

Meanwhile, the NBA’s minor-league has affiliates for 26 of 30 NBA teams and counting. The league also has youth academies in China, India, Australia and Senegal – and also counting.

Jonathan Givony of  ESPN:

The NBA will announce a new basketball development and training academy in Mexico City during the Global Games December 7th and 9th, in conjunction with CONADE (Mexico’s National Commission for Physical Culture and Sport) and the Mexican Basketball Federation, sources told ESPN.

Mexico City could emerge as the 31st G League franchise, where prospects from the seven academies graduate up to, according to sources.

A minor-league team in Mexico City could be a nice testing ground for an NBA franchise. An unaffiliated minor-league team is also an interesting wrinkle, especially how it’d be stocked.

Ultimately, experimentation is a purpose of the NBA’s minor league. This would be running multiple test cases at once.