MILWAUKEE -- Dwyane Wade was in familiar territory early Thursday as the Miami Heat held their shootaround on the campus of Marquette University, where he starred.
When the Heat enter the BMO Harris Bradley Center for Game 3 against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night, Wade will again be welcomed by the sight of his college jersey hanging in the arena rafters.
But with the top-seeded Heat holding a 2-0 lead in a series that's proved to be the most lopsided matchup in the playoffs, the last things coach Erik Spoelstra expects his team to feel are nostalgia, comfort and hospitality.
Instead, the Heat are bracing for a desperate Bucks team playing at home and aiming to get back into the series.
“There's nothing wrong with us coming in desperate,” Spoelstra said after the Heat's workout Thursday. “Our guys have been through a lot of playoff series to understand that nothing starts until you win on an opponent's floor. So we haven't done nothing yet. We know they'll play with confidence and energy in front of their fans. We'll have to play better than we did [in Game 2].”
Miami has won the first two games by an average of 17.5 points, but Milwaukee's coach and players took some solace in hanging with the Heat early in both games. After a 110-87 loss in Game 1, the Bucks shot 50 percent from the field, scored 23 points off Heat turnovers and kept up with Miami a bit longer before falling 98-86 on Tuesday.
Bucks center Larry Sanders said his team made incremental progress in Game 2 and hopes to continue the trend and get a breakthrough win Thursday to slow Miami's momentum. So far, the Bucks have been unable to counter the Heat's ability to break open games with devastating late runs.
Miami used a 9-0 spurt to start the third quarter in Game 1 and eventually led by as many as 25 points. In Game 2 on Tuesday, it was a 12-0 run by the Heat to open the fourth that ultimately created a 19-point cushion. In both instances, the Heat reached a gear the Bucks didn't match.
“In two games now, we seem to have a stretch of about four, five, six minutes where they kind of get away from us,” Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. “That changes the complexion of the game. We have to figure out how to keep that from happening and keep ourselves in the game. We had to try and play catch up, and that is very hard to do against a high quality team like the Miami Heat.”
While Boylan wants to figure out a way to match Miami's drive, Spoelstra doesn't want his team to always rely on having to reach another gear to emerge from tight games.
“We can't take that for granted or put ourselves in trouble, and now you're waiting for that switch to turn on,” he said. “That's a dangerous habit to get into. Now, when you need it to go on 8-0 or 10-3 skirmishes [to] win those battles, you want to have that ability to create separation. But you don't want to wait, wait and wait.”
Ideally, Spoelstra said, the Heat would impose their will a bit earlier in the game. That might be a necessity Thursday as the scene shifts to a more hostile environment, one that could give the Bucks a significant boost from the outset.
“Hopefully we can build on that and get a win,” Bucks forward Mike Dunleavy said. “We had an opportunity for three quarters, but you have to play four to beat those guys. There are no shortcuts.”
At 38-44, Milwaukee had the worst record among the league's 16 playoff teams. But that mark included a 21-20 home record that featured victories over five playoff teams. The Bucks lost the regular-season series 3-1 to Miami, but their lone win was a 19-point blowout Dec. 29 at home. It was one of four times the Bucks won at home by a double-figure margin against a team that ended up in the playoffs.
Wade expects nothing less than a tough fight from the Bucks in Game 3, even as he returns to a city that still embraces him as a hometown hero of sorts.
“Milwaukee has been special to me,” Wade said. “It has helped get me to this point. Going back there in the playoffs is a cool thing. It's going to be emotional for them. They're going to give us their best shot. We have to withstand them and be there late to have a chance to win.”