In what will be their second meeting in four days, the Miami Heat will travel to Milwaukee to meet the Bucks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. In a Sunday afternoon matinee, the Bucks were atrocious offensively only mustering 79 points, equalling a season low. Both teams played the following day with differing results. Milwaukee produced an impressive performance down the stretch to win in Washington, whilst the Heat struggled in Chicago to go down by 8 to the Bulls.
The loss to the Heat dropped the Bucks to the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference, serving a potential wake up call to a team that has been wildly inconsistent from night to night. After shooting an embarrassing 14 percent from beyond the arc against the Heat, the Bucks shooters found their range to go 8-16 from three. Eric Bledsoe in particular found got hot at the most important time of the game, as he hit back to back triples late in the third, and another in the last, completing another clutch performance from the explosive point guard.
Not to be out shadowed, Giannis Antetokounmpo yet again put on a performance with MVP written all over it. In completing his first career 20/20 game, the Greek Freak stuffed the box score to finish with 27 points, 20 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 blocks.
It was the latest in a long line of impressive bounce back performances from Milwaukee so far this season as they continue to struggle to put together a consistent stretch of efforts. In particular, the struggles have come against their Conference foes as they hold a rather disappointing 11-14 record against the East.
The Bucks starting unit will be out for revenge tonight after having one of their worst outings of the season. So often its been the second unit that has let the Bucks down, but in this one Malcolm Brogdon (-21), Antetokounmpo (-20), and Bledsoe (-16) were all below their best as the Heat ran riot in the second half. After holding a 2 point half time lead, the Bucks were outscored in the third 16-30, effectively ending the contest.
Given the Bucks slide in the standings of late, this match up provides them with a golden opportunity to make up ground on the 4th seeded Heat. Only 3.5 games separates Cleveland (3rd) from Detroit (8th), meaning every game against a playoff contender in the East gains importance the longer the season goes on.
Miami took the first battle in the season series handily. With potential tie break implications riding on the result, this has quickly become an absolute must win for Milwaukee on their home floor. A much improved performance from Sunday will be required if they are to stand a chance.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Give Giannis Space: In what became a frustrating afternoon for Giannis in South Beach, he struggled to find room to operate in the paint as we’ve all become so accustomed to seeing. Excellent man defense from James Johnson, coupled with Hassan Whiteside’s intimidating prescience in the paint made life especially difficult. Overall the Heat blocked eight shots on the night, 6 of those coming between that pair. Lack of spacing has often been an issue for the Bucks but there was simply no reason for the Heat to respect them from the outside as shot after shot clanged off the rim. Finishing the game 4-28 from deep, Khris Middleton (1-8), Bledsoe (0-6), Tony Snell (1-4), and Brogdon (1-3), failed to help their superstar big man in drawing the defense to the outside. Making perimeter shots tonight will be crucial, particularly early, making the defense respect them, and in the process allow Giannis more space and opportunities to create and score.
- Move The Ball: Admittedly these numbers are a little misleading as its clearly hard to rack up assists when you can’t make a shot. Nonetheless, Milwaukee’s total of 9 assists against the Heat on Sunday was simply not good enough. The ball movement was far more pronounced Monday afternoon in Washington as they racked up 21 assists and created great looks inside and out. Far too often the offense reverted back to the ugly iso ball we’ve seen time and time again this season against the Heat, playing directly into the oppositions hands and resulting in poor shots, late on the clock. Keep the offense flowing, move the ball and an improved offensive effort shouldn’t be hard to achieve.
- Ending Middleton’s Miami Hoodoo: Khris had one of his worst games of the year in Miami Sunday, finishing 3-16 from the field and 1-8 from three. Across his career however, the going has always been tough against Miami for Middleton. In 12 games, he averages 12 points on 37 percent shooting from the field and 31 percent from deep paint. Not pretty numbers. In the midst of a career year despite consistency issues, it’s time Middleton put the Heat to the sword. And boy do the Bucks need it.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus