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.