Miami HEAT at Milwaukee Bucks Game Preview

Dwyane Wade
Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka

The Miami HEAT face the Milwaukee Bucks Friday night at Fiserv Forum. Tip-off is set for 8:30 PM, and television coverage is on FOX Sports Sun. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: How were the HEAT able to hold on to end San Antonio’s winning streak?

Couper Moorhead: After Miami led by as much as 18 and held off one Spurs run after another, San Antonio still managed to close the gap and came within one Rudy Gay missed three from tying in the game in the final minute. Miami managed to find just enough offense to seal the deal, with the bench unit of Goran Dragić, Dwyane Wade, Hassan Whiteside and James Johnson playing a big role down the stretch (along with Josh Richardson who played all 12 minutes in the final period). The HEAT’s best play was in the earlier going, when they brought a defensive intensity that heavily limited San Antonio’s traditionally crisp offense as they blended both man and zone schemes together. But as we’ve seen of late, even if the shooting cools and the offense flattens out a bit down the stretch, Miami is still playing with a desperation that gets them to the finish line in games that will ultimately decide their postseason fate.

Joe Beguiristain: While the HEAT’s defense was strong and the combination of Josh Richardson and Derrick Jones Jr. wreaked havoc in zone more often than not, Dwyane Wade was the reason why Miami held on in the end.

After hitting a tough left-handed bank shot, Wade came through with a clutch steal on DeMar DeRozan as the Spurs’ star was attacking in transition with a full head of steam. From there, Kelly Olynyk iced the game with two free throws to put the HEAT up five with 4.7 seconds left.

Getting back to the HEAT’s defense earlier in the contest, Richardson, Jones Jr., Bam Adebayo and James Johnson were absolutely incredible. All told, the trio of Jones Jr., Richardson and Adebayo combined for 37 contested shots, while JJ and J. Rich led the team with four deflections apiece.

That’s a recipe for success.

Giannis Antetokounmpo2: What takeaway did you have from that second half against Milwaukee last week?

Couper: In a weird way that second half didn’t teach us anything we didn’t already know about the Bucks. With all their shooters and focus on earning threes, and all the effort teams have to put into shutting down the paint to limit Giannis Antetokounmpo, if Milwaukee is hitting their threes – they made over half of their attempts in that second half – then they’re going to be extremely tough for just about anyone in the league to beat. And on the flip side, it’s fairly clear how much you need to hit your own threes to compete with Milwaukee when they’re at their best given how much both their length and schemes shut off the paint. Being able to run off their misses and turnovers can spark good offensive stretches, but the Bucks have designed their defense around allowing what they think are the right kinds of threes to allow. Fortunately for Miami they have a variety of players who will shoot those threes, they just didn’t make them down the stretch as the Bucks came back and pulled away.

Joe: Milwaukee can really shoot the ball.

Seriously, though, the Bucks have numerous weapons along the perimeter for Giannis Antetokounmpo to spray to when he isn’t terrorizing defenses himself. And in the second half of that last meeting, Milwaukee kept the ball moving and recorded 18 assists on 24 made field goals, with 11 of those shots coming from beyond the arc. Naturally, the Greek Freak dished out six of his game-high nine assists during that flurry and continued to be the Bucks’ primary playmaker.

This time around, though, Antetokounmpo will be without Nikola Mirotić and Malcolm Brogdon, and he himself is listed as probable with a right ankle sprain.

We’ll see if he’s limited in any way.  

3: Since Friday night could very well be a postseason preview beyond the immediate standings implications, what are you looking for as far as matchup analysis goes?

Couper: The most interesting part of this matchup continues to be the interplay between Miami’s defense and Antetokounmpo. How the HEAT’s various zone looks play against top-tier teams in the playoffs is a question in any potential series, but Miami has always geared their looks specifically for Milwaukee’s star and it typically has been successful even in games they’ve lost because of the Bucks’ shooting. What was interesting about the last game was that despite some turnovers, Antetokounmpo looked increasingly comfortable attacking the HEAT’s defense, figuring out where to draw mismatches on the perimeter and attack before the interior defenders get a chance to rotate – as opposed to previously where his attacks would be a beat or two too late as he figured out the coverage. What we’re looking for Friday night, then, is whether Antetokounmpo appears to have figured something out or perhaps if it was more of a one-game thing where Miami wasn’t executing quite at their usual levels. Just getting into the playoffs of course remains the day-to-day goal, but we have to look into the deeper layers when the they’re also facing a potential series opponent.

Joe: I’ll be looking to see how Miami responds after dropping its last two to Milwaukee.

As I mentioned in my second response, the Bucks went off in the second half of last week’s meeting, but the HEAT did a nice job against them before halftime. And now with Johnson back in the fray — a guy who’s fared well against Antetokounmpo in the past — perhaps Miami could sustain it longer.

Over the past three games, JJ has racked up 10 deflections, five steals and three blocks.

Talk about doing whatever it takes.

HEAT at Bucks Head To Head

Game Notes:

  • The Bucks have won two of the three prior matchups with the HEAT this season, including a 113-98 victory in their most recent meeting on March 15.
  • Miami has won four of five and is 35-36, while Milwaukee has dropped two of three and enters the contest at 53-19.
  • With the HEAT being 8-2 this month, Head Coach Erik Spoelstra has now recorded a 112-59 career record in March.
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo leads the Bucks in points (27.5), rebounds (12.7) and assists (6.0) per game.
  • Rodney McGruder (Left Knee Soreness), Justise Winslow (Right Thigh Bruise), Charles Cooke and Yante Maten (Sioux Falls Assignment) are out.

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 107.2 (23)
  • HEAT Defense: 107.1 (8)
  • Bucks Offense: 113.2 (3)
  • Bucks Defense: 104.6 (1)

For live in-game updates of Friday night’s contest, follow @MiamiHEAT, @CoupNBA and @JoeBeguiristain on Twitter.

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