Milwaukee Bucks at Miami HEAT Game Preview

Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon

The Miami HEAT host the Milwaukee Bucks Sunday afternoon at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! The HEAT defeated the Bucks 106-88 in their last meeting on Feb. 8. Tip-off is set for 1:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 12:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: What has been the most impressive part of this winning streak to you?

Couper Moorhead: That it hasn’t been any one thing. It’s not just great shooting every night, or huge Goran Dragić performances or elite defense. The HEAT have simply found something that works in the context of their opponent, and the players that have been healthy enough to play, to give them enough of an edge to at least ensure a close game down the stretch. And once the game gets close and the time gets short, Erik Spoelstra has gone with lineups heavy on shooting to provide as positive an ecosystem as possible for Dragić to get going downhill and finding open players.

Even when you have injuries, these are the benefits of having a team full of versatile, flexible players. The HEAT don’t have many players who use a dramatically high number of possessions from night to night, so when one guy isn’t shooting well or someone else is hurt, they’re able to transition seamlessly to a slightly different variation of their usual looks. In the midst of the night-to-night rigors of the regular season, that makes them uniquely capable no matter the situation.

Joe Beguiristain: The most impressive thing to me about the HEAT’s winning streak is that they’ve found a way to finish close games regardless of the circumstances. With James Johnson out for most of the game against the Raptors and the entire matchup with the Pacers, Miami adapted and paired Bam Adebayo with Hassan Whiteside quite often. Adebayo thrived in both games and showed his versatility on both ends, while Whiteside dominated Indiana down the stretch to seal the deal.

Of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Josh Richardson and Wayne Ellington’s game-winning layups that have also occurred during the streak off some excellent play design from Erik Spoelstra.

Above all else though, it’s been encouraging to see the HEAT grow and learn from their past mistakes. These are games that Miami had trouble winning for most of last season (although the 13-game winning streak changed things a bit), and it’s clear that the pain from not making the playoffs last year has stuck with this group and has fueled them through what has been a nice first half of 2017-18.

That said, the team still has to keep pushing.  

2: How has Eric Bledsoe changed Milwaukee’s offense?

Couper: While the rapid and continual development of Giannis Antetokounmpo deserves the lion’s share of the credit, the Bucks are a Top 10 offense for the first time in years and with Bledsoe using 26.5 percent of the team’s possessions while he’s on the floor, he certainly has something to do with that. 

Antetokounmpo running the offense is such a unique looks for the Bucks but they always had a somewhat traditional point guard on the floor all the same, whether it was Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon or Matthew Dellavedova – both of whom are more complimentary offensive players. Now the Bucks have Bledsoe creating just as much as Antetokounmpo, with both players getting into the paint and helping to create offense for one another. Milwaukee might not always have the most spacing on the floor, but they have players who are able to operate remarkably well in highly contested areas.

Joe: While Giannis Antetokounmpo has been fantastic, Eric Bledsoe adds a whole new dimension to the Bucks’ offense. As a whole, the former Sun has taken the load off Antetokounmpo thanks to his ability to handle the ball and do plenty of damage in the pick-and-roll. Of course, the Greek Freak has aided in that cause with some great screens to free up his new teammate.

When Bledsoe isn’t attacking the basket and scoring himself (he’s shooting 48.5 percent on drives), he’s either knocking down catch-and-shoot threes (38 percent on the year) or setting up his teammates. Naturally, the bulk of his passes have gone to Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton on the perimeter.

It’s also important to note that Bledsoe is a blur in transition who can turn any mistake or missed shot into an easy two on the other end. As such, the HEAT will have to be careful with the ball on Sunday afternoon.

3: What about the Bucks will uniquely challenge the HEAT Sunday?

Couper: In a league where more conservative pick-and-roll defenses are en vogue, with big centers dropping back into the paint to encourage mid-range shots, the Bucks are decidedly different as they will often blitz on ballhandlers just as the HEAT used to do in the earlier parts of this decade. It doesn’t always work out well for them as they rank in the Bottom 10 defensively, but it’s one of those styles that really works when it works. If you let their pressure bother your passes then their length is going to turn you over when your passes are not perfectly on time and target.

So the HEAT will need to be careful with the ball, especially when attempting their more aggressive passes in the paint, and make patient, smart plays to use the Bucks’ aggression against them.  

Joe: As been the case with the Bucks for a while now, their length and athleticism really causes problems for the opposition. It all starts with Antetokounmpo and his ability to run the length of the floor in about two strides. Seriously though, the way he can cover ground quickly and get to the basket rather effortlessly puts a lot of pressure on opposing defenses. In turn, that opens things up for Bledsoe, Middleton and second-year guard Malcolm Brogdon.

Thanks in large part to Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee is near the top of the league in deflections and points off turnovers. While that hasn’t translated into a top-tier defense, it’s still something Miami needs to be cognizant of.  

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Highlights: 

Feb. 8 – HEAT at Bucks

Jan. 21 – Bucks at HEAT

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT have won 13 of their last 17 (including six straight) and are 24-17 on the year.
  • The Bucks have dropped two of three and enter the contest at 22-19.
  • Goran Dragić is averaging 21.3 points, 7.7 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game over Miami’s six-game winning streak.
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo leads Milwaukee in points (28.5), rebounds (9.9) and assists (4.6) per game.

 

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 103.7 (21)
  • HEAT Defense: 104.8 (13)
  • Bucks Offense: 108.1 (7)
  • Bucks Defense: 107.9 (25)