LeBron James is hurting and so is the Heat defense. Is a visit from the Bucks what Miami needs in order to get better quickly? Our Heat Index crew previews Tuesday's game.
1. Should the Heat consider giving LeBron some time off to rest his back?
Israel Gutierrez: The Heat should absolutely consider it, even though this type of back injury isn't uncommon for James this time of year. But it never hurts to play it safe with your most important asset. The Pacers jumping out to a lead in the conference shouldn't be too much of a concern.
Tom Haberstroh: Yes. The goal is to have LeBron James in prime condition for the playoff run. Since joining the Heat, he's played 400 minutes more than anybody (including the postseason) and almost 2,000 more minutes than Dwyane Wade. If LeBron's back is truly bothering him, trust that ol' "better to be safe than sorry" adage.
Michael Wallace: Not unless he raises his hand for relief. As LeBron sort of jokingly told reporters Monday in Miami, it's time to stop treating him like Dwyane Wade when it comes to all of the injury questions. LeBron's back tightness sounds more like a conditioning issue he routinely works his way through more so than a serious concern right now.
2. What’s the key to Miami tightening up on defense?
Gutierrez: Effort. This is exactly what the skeptics talked about when they say fatigue sets in while trying to win three straight titles. This team knows how to defend at a championship level and can do it now, if it was needed. But until it is needed, it's difficult to ramp up that kind of energy nightly.
Haberstroh: It's November. It's an exhausting defense that makes up for a lack of size with speed. They don't have Roy Hibbert, Marc Gasol or Dwight Howard so they have to make up for it by sprinting all over the floor and wreaking havoc with athleticism. It is unrealistic to do that for 100 games straight and the players know it.
Wallace: This sounds simple. But it's all about focus and effort on that side of the ball. We've seen the Heat put in the work to put together some of the best offensive performances of the Big Three era already this season. Their ball movement and assist numbers are off the charts but they have to care enough on defense to make the magic work there, as well.
3. Other than slowing down O.J. Mayo, how do the Heat stop the Bucks?
Gutierrez: The Bucks' perimeter unit isn't the most efficient group of all time, so the Heat probably need to make sure they don't get pushed around inside. That means keeping a body on Zaza Pachulia and not letting John Henson have a breakout game.
Haberstroh: Well, they need to keep Larry Sanders off the floor, but he already took care of that. Kidding aside, if the Heat's transition defense shows up, they should run away with the win. Transition defense has been an Achilles' heel for the Heat and on Saturday, the Boston Celtics took advantage. Milwaukee could do the same with its young core.
Wallace: By avoiding another slow start and closing strong in the fourth. We've seen this Bucks team left for dead a few times this season only to rally back to set up a close finish or even steal a game. Another key for the Heat is to close out defensively on Milwaukee's shooters. The Bucks are second in the league in 3-point shooting at 43.7 percent from beyond the arc.