Milwaukee Bucks at Miami HEAT Game Preview

Dwyane Wade, Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragić
Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon

The Miami HEAT host the Milwaukee Bucks Friday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! Tip-off is set for 8:00 PM, and television coverage is on FOX Sports Sun. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: What impressed you the most about Miami’s thorough victory over Detroit?

Couper Moorhead: Well, when you set the record for fewest opponent second-half points (25) in the shot-clock era, we’re sort of obligated to pick that, aren’t we? The HEAT started the third-quarter on a 21-0 run, finished the quarter 33-8 and then won a relatively meaningless fourth quarter 21-17 just for good measure. Detroit had hinted in the second quarter at having some life when they hit a flurry of threes but at no point were they getting downhill as the HEAT defense pushed them further and further away from the paint, with the ball spending most possessions idling beyond the arc until there was just a little bit of space available to get a three off. It was, simply, as commanding and dominant a performance as Miami has had all season and better yet it kept them within arm’s reach of the No. 6 seed, though they remain two and a half games back of Brooklyn.

Joe Beguiristain: Above all else, Miami’s tenacity from the very beginning impressed me the most. Within the first possession, you could tell just how much the HEAT wanted it, and that eventually manifested itself into a crazy 21-0 run to start the third quarter.

Naturally, “The Kids” played a major role, as Justise Winslow mixed up his offensive approach, Josh Richardson and Derrick Jones Jr. wreaked havoc in the passing lanes and Bam Adebayo played stout defense on Blake Griffin. All told, the quartet combined for 29 contested shots and 12 deflections on the night, which is pretty bonkers.

Not to mention, vets such as Dion Waiters, Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragić also made their presence felt throughout the contest.

In other words, it took a total team effort for the HEAT to come away with their largest margin of victory since May 8, 2013 when they defeated the Bulls by 37 in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

 Giannis Antetokounmpo2: What was the main difference between the two games with the Bucks so far?

Couper: Most everything. While the first meeting, just before Christmas when, we should mention, the Bucks were on one of those long back-to-backs, was a close game the story of the night was Miami frustrating Giannis Antetokounmpo into a 3-of-12 evening with their usual scheme against point-forward types – with the Bucks going 9-of-43 from deep to cap off what is their second-worst offensive game of the season to date. When these teams reconvened in early January, everything flipped. Milwaukee shot 17-of-39 from deep, they got into the paint (with Malcolm Brogdon helping loosen things up after missing the first matchup) and they had 20 points in the open floor, with all of it adding up to a lead which stretched to 20 at one point. And that’s really the story of the Bucks this season, as they can beat you in just about every aspect of the game, so when all those things come together they can build leads better than just about anyone.

The one constant, unfortunately, is that the HEAT have struggled to find their offense against the longest team in the league with offensive ratings of 92.2 and 82.7. The one hole in Milwaukee’s defense, by design, is that they allow a fair number of three-point attempts in order to prioritize protecting the paint, so while there are no obvious counters to the length on the floor hitting threes is probably as important against the Bucks as it is against any team in the league this year.

Joe: The two matchups between Miami and Milwaukee were basically polar opposites of each other. After the HEAT schemed well for Giannis Antetokounmpo and made his life miserable in the first meeting on Dec. 22, the “Greek Freak” recorded a triple-double the next time out against Miami a little over three weeks later. And as Coup mentioned above, the Bucks shot much better from downtown in that last matchup and had five guys hit multiple treys.   

That kind of hot shooting is hard to combat, but it comes with the territory when you face a team that takes the second-most threes in the league. And now with the addition of Nikola Mirotić, who leads the team with a 115.3 offensive rating in his 11 games thus far, things could be even tougher.

“They have shooting for days. That’s just another [guy] that you’re going to have to deal with,” Erik Spoelstra said after Thursday’s practice. “And they shoot just about as many threes as Houston does. They do it in a different way. A little bit more ball movement [and] pace.”

3: How do you expect Miami to defend the Bucks with their new starting lineup?

Couper: In the past the Miami scheme for Antetokounmpo has been to ask James Johnson to be solid on him one-on-one while pinching into the paint at all angles to effectively create a wall around the painted area. With Johnson currently not seeing regular minutes, that responsibility will likely fall to Bam Adebayo. Adebayo has certainly shown that he’s capable of defending one-on-one in space, but he’ll still need the help of his teammates to deter Antetokounmpo’s long, powerful drives.

The thing about providing available help on Milwaukee’s best player, however, is that it’s nearly impossible to do that and perfectly cover the three-point line. That’s why it’s been so important that the Bucks have focused on getting up as many threes as possible in order to maximize the space around their star. The HEAT have seen this for two games and it isn’t new, but what is new is that they added yet another big, long shooter in Nikola Mirotić just before the trade deadline. Now the Bucks have Brook Lopez starting with Mirotić and Ersan İlyasova coming off the bench to give them probably the rangiest frontcourt in the league, which only makes it tougher to give Antetokounmpo the attention he demands. As such, the HEAT may try a little more zone just to mix in a different look, but it will be a difficult dance and the Bucks even have Pau Gasol now to throw in the game – and Gasol, as his brother showed last weekend, is sort of a direct counter to zone even at his age given his comfort operating in the middle of the floor.

Joe: As been the case for most of the past three months, I expect to see a mix of man and zone coverages. But just how much zone remains to be seen given how much shooting Milwaukee has at its disposal.

In terms of individual matchups, though, I agree with Coup that Adebayo will be assigned to Antetokounmpo. Remember, the 21-year-old out of Kentucky fared quite well against Griffin on Wednesday. But more importantly, he’s also made things tough on Antetokounmpo in the limited time he’s defended him this season.

Long story short, there’s no easy answer to this question. The Bucks are among the league’s elite in offensive efficiency due to their ability to finish at the rim and shoot it from deep.  In fact, Milwaukee is shooting 66.7 percent on 34.7 field goals per game from the restricted area. Both of those metrics are good enough for second best in the NBA.  

Bucks at HEAT Head To Head

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT and Bucks have split the season series at one game apiece, with each team winning on their home floor.
  • Miami has won six of eight and is 32-35, while Milwaukee has won three of four and enters the contest with a league-best 51-17 record.
  • Josh Richardson is averaging a team-high 17.2 points per game this season, which is the most by any player drafted in the second round in his draft class.
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo leads the Bucks in points (27.0), rebounds (12.6) and assists (5.9) per game.
  • Dwyane Wade (Bruised Right Elbow) is questionable and Yante Maten (Sioux Falls Assignment) is out.

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 107.3 (23)
  • HEAT Defense: 107.4 (8)
  • Bucks Offense: 113.5 (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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