Miami HEAT at Milwaukee Bucks Game Preview

Photo Credit: Gary Dineen

The Miami HEAT face the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday night at BMO Harris Bradley Center. The HEAT defeated the Bucks 97-79 in their last meeting on Jan. 14. Tip-off is set for 8:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 7:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: What stuck out to you the most about Miami’s loss in Chicago?

Couper Moorhead: Afternoon games are always an adventure. Back-to-back afternoon games are even more of a journey. That doesn’t excuse a loss, but it’s important context that has to be mentioned with a game like this. And even with Miami looking a step slow for most of the afternoon, they only surrendered an average Shot Quality game to Chicago. The Bulls, for their part, just happened to hit 16-of-39 from deep just as the Bucks happened to shoot 4-of-28 from downtown the day before. The HEAT could have been much better in their attention to defensive detail, but sometimes variance hits at the wrong time.

Still, Miami closed things to five points in the final minutes because they kept plugging away even when they weren’t at their best. Goran Dragić kept putting pressure on Chicago’s defense, getting the HEAT into the bonus early as they closed with the usual lineup strategy of getting as many shooters on the floor as possible and letting Dragić go to work. They fell short, but they didn’t fold.

Joe Beguiristain: With Miami on the tail end of an unusual back-to-back, the team just didn’t have enough energy on the defensive end to come away with the win. After the Bulls got into a nice rhythm early in front of their home crowd, they were able to carry that throughout the afternoon.

That said, Goran Dragić (of course) and Kelly Olynyk led a furious fourth quarter rally and combined for 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting in the period. Thanks to the duo and Wayne Ellington, the HEAT were able to get within five a few times down the stretch, but Chicago responded each time.

Although the loss was disappointing, it’s important to note that Miami recorded a season-high 35 assists on 40 made field goals against the Bulls. While Dragić and Olynyk accounted for nearly half of those, Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow also came through with some nice feeds. When the HEAT’s defense is up to its usual standards, that kind of ball movement on the other end will win you games more often than not. 

2: Are there any immediate lessons to take from Sunday’s win over the Bucks into this second matchup?

Couper: The HEAT shouldn’t expect the same Milwaukee team. Just as Miami went from great to not-so-good in their afternoon back-to-back, the Bucks followed up a below-standards effort Sunday with an impressive 104-95 road victory against the Wizards on Monday.

Miami won the first matchup largely because James Johnson did yeoman’s work keeping Giannis Antetokounmpo – who was a season-low minus-20 – in front of him and with the rest of the team packing the paint the Bucks scored just 34 points inside as they shot 4-of-28 from three. The next day, they shot 8-of-16 from three and forced 23 Washington turnovers. As long as Miami controls their mistakes and protects the paint they should be fine, but you can’t expect the Bucks to shoot 31.6 overall no matter how well you’re defending. MVP-caliber players find a way to get back to playing like an MVP-caliber player, and good offensive teams correct their mistakes.

Joe: While the HEAT defended extremely well in that last matchup with the Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton had uncharacteristically poor games. As Coup alluded to above, all three of those guys turned things around against the Wizards and helped propel Milwaukee to victory on Monday.

Although Miami limited the trio the day prior, you can’t take that for granted. It took a collective effort from the HEAT to come out on top, whether it was James Johnson using his strength advantage against Antetokounmpo or Josh Richardson disrupting Bledsoe and Middleton. Bam Adebayo also turned some heads with a few solid defensive possessions against Antetokounmpo and Middleton.

We’ll see if Miami can replicate that on the road this time around.

3: If the HEAT are without Tyler Johnson, for just Wednesday night or an extended period of time, how do you expect them to adjust?

Couper: We don’t yet know how long Miami will be without Johnson, but it seems likely we won’t be on the court Wednesday night. In the short term, Erik Spoelstra could shift either Justise Winslow or Derrick Jones Jr. back into the starting lineup – it seems unlikely that Wayne Ellington will be moved off his bench role – but that may entail moving James Johnson back to the second unit and starting Kelly Olynyk, just to keep enough shooting in the starting group. That said, James Johnson was moved into the starting lineup seemingly to defend Antetokounmpo, so Spoelstra might be playing things game-to-game until Tyler Johnson’s situation becomes more clear. All that said, while there’s been no official word on him there’s always a chance Rodney McGruder return in the next month or so and help sort out those starting groups.

Joe: If Tyler Johnson is unable to play Wednesday night, I’d expect Erik Spoelstra to start Derrick Jones Jr. at the two spot. As Coup mentioned above, Justise Winslow and Wayne Ellington are also possibilities, but Spoelstra seems to be easing Winslow back from injury and Ellington has been vital off the bench. What’s more, Jones Jr. fared well as a starter against the Raptors and Pacers last week (although Winslow wasn’t available yet). In terms of the games that lie ahead, I think Coach Spo will base his starting lineup on the individual matchups like he’s done a few times when missing players this season.

Regardless, it’ll be tough replicating what TJ brings to the table. In addition to being one of the HEAT’s biggest catch-and-shoot threats, he’s also continued to give maximum effort on the defensive end. While Jones Jr., Winslow and Ellington are certainly capable of getting the job done in his absence, it’s always tough when a key contributor is out.

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Highlights:

Jan. 14 – Bucks at HEAT

Feb. 8 – HEAT at Bucks

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT have won seven of eight and are 25-18.
  • The Bucks have dropped two of three and enter the contest at 23-20.
  • Goran Dragić leads Miami in points (17.3) and assists (4.9) per game.
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo leads Milwaukee in points (28.3), rebounds (10.1) and assists (4.5) per contest.

 

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 103.7 (23)
  • HEAT Defense: 104.6 (11)
  • Bucks Offense: 107.4 (8)
  • Bucks Defense: 107.3 (24)