During a particularly tough stretch in the schedule Milwaukee find themselves trying to keep pace with the top seeds in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks are in Miami for a Sunday afternoon matinee in what will make it nine out of the last ten games against teams with a winning record. So far the Bucks have gone 5-4 in that stretch, alternating wins and losses in their last eight games. After going down to the Golden State Warriors at home Friday night, the Bucks will be out to continue that streak against the red hot Heat.
Miami come into this match up on a six game winning streak to surge into the Southeast divisions lead, and clear fourth place in the conference standings. During their latest winning streak they have racked up impressive road wins in Toronto and Indiana. When looking down the Heats roster, you notice that they don’t exactly have a raft of big name players. Despite this, they play an extremely well balanced team game and this is illustrated by the even spread of scoring throughout the roster. Incredibly the Heat have eight players averaging double digit scoring with Goran Dragic (17.0), Dion Waiters (14.3), Hassan Whiteside (14.0), Josh Richardson (12.7), Tyler Johnson (12.1), Wayne Ellington (10.7), James Johnson (10.6), and Kelly Olynyk (10.4) forming one the leagues most balanced attacks.
Miami will be without Dion Waiters who will be heading in for season ending surgery on his left ankle in the coming weeks. Also listed as inactive for this game are Justise Winslow and Rodney McGruder. Returning to the lineup will be James Johnson however, having served his one game suspension for fighting Toronto’s Serge Ibaka.
The Heat don’t possess a top ten offense or defense but they are effective in keeping teams off the three point line as they hold the leagues lowest mark for opponent three point attempts per game with 24.8. Coming up against a Milwaukee team that doesn’t shoot anywhere near as much as they should from beyond the arc, the Bucks will need to make this a focus to avoid trading two points for three all afternoon.
The Bucks will look to bounce back from a disappointing fourth quarter performance against Golden State. Having coming back from being down double digits to hold a lead heading into the last, Milwaukee’s offense went to sleep, as the Warriors regained control to eventually win by 14 points. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon combined for 61 points for the night but the Bucks sorely missed Khris Middleton’s usual impact. In a horror night, Middleton finished with a paltry 8 points on 2-12 shooting.
One pleasing aspect to come from the night was Tony Snell finding his stroke. After a particularly slow start to the New Year, Snell finished with 11 points off the bench including three triples in hopefully a sign of better things to come.
It feels like every game the Bucks play lately is against a team holding a lengthy winning streak. Afternoon games haven’t always treated the Bucks well in recent times but with back to back matinees on tap, they will be hoping to pick up another huge win against a certain rival for playoff seeding down the road.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Deny Arvo Doldrums: Bucks fans will often groan when looking at afternoon games on the schedule. For reasons unknown, it has been a bad omen for Milwaukee as they seem to struggle to get in a rhythm with the earlier time slot. Since the start of the 2015/16 season the Bucks are 3-7 in afternoon matinees. Sloppy turnovers, sluggish defense and low energy have plagued the Bucks routinely in these outings. It’s critical the Bucks get off a strong start in this game and avoid the grind setting in. If they don’t, the may be in for a long couple of days.
- Bledsoe v Dragic: The Bucks and Bledsoe in particular might have dodged a bullet when Steph Curry was ruled out on Friday night, but another tough match up awaits the Bucks point guard. Dragic leads the Heat in scoring with 17 points per game and also assists with 4.9. Always crafty with the ball, Dragic will dribble his way around in the half court, happy to hold the ball until he finds an open man. With the Bucks defense regularly caught out of position, this could spell danger. Bledsoe will have to be at his best defensively to subdue the influence of the Yugoslavian guard. Doing so will go along way to stopping the Heat and securing an important victory.
- Points In The Paint: Miami rank 14th in the league for opponent points in the paint this season allowing 44.1 per game. This has clearly been one of the Bucks strengths as they average 48.0 paint points per game, the 6th most of any team. Hassan Whiteside has missed a multitude of games so far this season which probably has effected the Heats number as he is one of the leagues best rim protecters averaging 1.65 blocks per game. Despite the presence of Whiteside, the Bucks must attack him as much as possible with the likes of Antetokounmpo, Bledsoe and Brogdon taking it right at him to score or get to the line. Early foul trouble for Whiteside would spell disaster for Miami and it’s up to the Bucks to make his day as difficult as possible.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus