By NOEY KUPCHAN
(AP) -- Much was made about the Boston Celtics' easy win over the Miami Heat just over a week ago.
A repeat performance, however, could be hard to come by with the next matchup coming in South Beach.
Surging Boston tries for an eighth win in 10 games Tuesday night against a Heat team that's been nearly unbeatable at home.
The Celtics (32-24) have used a 7-2 run to climb into first place in the Atlantic Division, with the most notable of those wins coming 91-72 over Miami (40-15) on April 1. Rajon Rondo posted 16 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds for Boston, which limited the Heat to a season-worst 34.8 percent shooting and their lowest scoring output of 2011-12.
"We'll be better prepared," LeBron James said. "They beat us. They dominated us in that game. But we'll be better prepared."
The Celtics followed that victory with back-to-back losses to San Antonio and Chicago before winning 86-72 at Indiana on Saturday and 103-79 over division-rival Philadelphia the following night.
"We know what's at stake," forward Paul Pierce said. "A fourth seed, maybe a third."
The Celtics own a three-game division lead over New York and Philadelphia and sit in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
"This team is taking it to another level. They make you look bad. Did it to Miami last Sunday, did it to Indiana and now they did it to us," said 76ers coach Doug Collins, whose team was limited to 38.2 percent shooting.
"They are going to be a handful and I wouldn't want to play them in the playoffs. When Boston locks in they are really tough to play against. It's going to be very interesting. I wouldn't blink on Boston. Everybody wants to talk about Miami and Chicago."
The Heat are two games behind the Bulls for the top spot in the East thanks largely to their play on their own court. Miami had a 17-game home winning streak end with Friday night's 97-82 loss to Memphis before beating Detroit 98-75 at AmericanAirlines Arena on Sunday.
James had 26 points, Chris Bosh scored 22 to go along with nine rebounds and James Jones tied a career high with six 3-pointers Sunday for Miami, which was without Dwyane Wade due to right ankle soreness.
"Right now, every guy's on edge pretty much, trying to play to their utmost capabilities," Jones said. "We understand it's the playoffs and we need to play better as a team. From one through 15, every guy needs to play better."
Wade, expected back Tuesday, had 15 points on 6-of-17 shooting last week against Boston. James scored 23 but failed to record an assist for just the second time in his career.
The Celtics rank near the top of the league with 89.3 points allowed per game but have been even better over the last nine contests, giving up an average of 81.7 on 37.9 percent shooting.
"The defense is real good, guys are locked in," coach Doc Rivers said. "I don't care how well you play, your offense is going to fail you sometimes. But if you come with the right mind-set, your defense never should, and it'll always give you a chance to win a game."
The Celtics have taken 15 of 18 regular-season matchups in this series but have dropped their last two visits to Miami. The Heat shot 56.0 percent - the highest mark surrendered by Boston in almost two years - during a 115-107 home win Dec. 27.
Rondo has dished out at least 10 assists in 17 consecutive games, the longest such run since Utah's John Stockton did so in 29 straight Jan. 25-March 30, 1992.
"We have to try our best to make it tough on him but also make sure the other guys don't get off as well," Wade said of Rondo. "There are some things that we saw in that game that we can correct."
Updated April 9, 2012