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Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Miami off to 'predictable' start

By Michael Wallace



MIAMI -- Technically, Brandon Jennings' playoff prediction still has a pulse.

The Milwaukee Bucks' quick and cocky point guard said before Game 1 last week that his team would upset the defending champion Miami Heat in six games.

With Dwyane Wade steering the Heat to a 2-0 lead after Tuesday's 98-86 victory in a series that shifts to Milwaukee for the next two games, the Bucks will need to sweep the next four meetings for Jennings' vow to come to fruition.

Milwaukee is having a hard enough time trying to string four consecutive minutes of quality play together to maintain the Heat's attention. So it would almost seem foolish to believe the Bucks could do it for four games.

If the Bucks have little else going for them in this series against the overwhelming Heat, they can always rely on Jennings' defiant logic. He scored just eight points and shot 3 of 15 against Miami on Tuesday, but that didn't stop Jennings from firing off another dose of defiant logic.

This time, it came after the Heat used a 12-0 run to start the fourth quarter -- a spurt from LeBron James and four Miami reserves that would eventually push the lead to 19 points.

“Besides them making that run in the fourth,” Jennings said, “we still should have won this game.”

The reality is that Tuesday's feisty performance against the Heat did more to prove why Milwaukee doesn't stand a chance of making this interesting far more than it should give the Bucks a dose of confidence as they retreat home.

James was much more lethargic than lethal on a night when he had 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists but also missed eight of 14 shots and committed four turnovers. Despite struggles from Jennings and Monta Ellis, the Bucks still shot 50 percent from the field, scored 23 points off Miami turnovers and outscored the Heat in transition.

Yet the Heat still led by nearly 20 with two minutes left.

It's already reached the point in this series where the only suspense left involves bracing yourself for whatever combination of clothing James decides to wear when he walks to the podium for his postgame news conference. After Game 1, there was more focus on his colorful sweater than on what adjustments might be made for Game 2. On Tuesday, James went with a Bucks-green sports jacket.

But his best accessories down the stretch in Game 2 was a second-unit group that included Norris Cole, Ray Allen, Shane Battier and Chris Andersen. When that lineup combination walked onto the court to start the fourth quarter, Miami was ahead 68-65 as the Bucks hung around.

Then Andersen inserted his energy and grabbed two offensive rebounds before he was fouled on a putback and converted a 3-point play to push the lead to six.

Then James swooped in for a layup on the next possession to extend the advantage to eight. Then Cole got a steal and scored at the rim to push it to double figures.

Another layup by Andersen was followed by a 3-pointer from Cole. In a span of just more than two minutes, the Heat sprinted away from the Bucks and never looked back.

James, Wade and Chris Bosh combined for 50 points, but the Heat also got 36 points from reserves, including 10 points apiece from Battier and Andersen. It was the latest example of how the Heat's bench has developed into a reliable unit that completely changes the energy and pace.

“It's not surprising -- what our bench brings,” James said. “They bring that energy and that effort. We were able to open the game up with a lot of energy and effort.”

The Heat may get a bigger challenge in practice from their second unit than what they've faced in games from Milwaukee so far.

“At our practices, there's never really a first-team, second-team type of feel to it, particularly when they start really competing,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That's helped us get to another level. They come in with ... more than anything else a real sense of urgency. They do everything with a purpose and an urgency and a spark to it.”

To keep his team psychologically engaged during a season in which the Heat have won the first two games by an average of 17.5 points, Spoelstra has only shown players film of stretches when they've struggled or made bad plays.

After Miami's 110-87 win in Game 1, Spoelstra might have had his work cut out for him in searching for blunders. After Tuesday's contest, he'll have a bit more material. The Heat travel to Milwaukee for Game 3 against a Bucks team that feels it played far better in Game 2 than it did in the opener.

“It's about making progress,” Bucks center Larry Sanders said. “We need to stay positive, stay aggressive and try to capitalize on things that worked. In some situations, we tend to break apart a little bit. This team is world champs, and they capitalize on things like that.”

Now comes the ultimate test of the Heat's desire.

There's plenty of room for the kind of letdown that would let the Bucks back into this series. Wade is returning to a friendly town where he starred in college at Marquette and has his jersey hanging in the rafters. After Thursday's game, there are two full days off before Game 4 on Sunday. Any hint of a day off from practice opens the door for a 90-minute drive down the interstate to more festive Chicago.

Or, the Heat can lock in and finish this off with a sweep and get plenty of rest before facing the winner of a Bulls-Nets series that could very well last awhile.

“We are a veteran ballclub; we understand what we are going into,” James said. “Our only focus is Game 3 (and) we will be ready for it.”

Jennings started this series with a silly prediction.

James and the Heat plan to end it in Milwaukee with two more games of dominant production.