Miami Heat Index: Milwaukee Bucks

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.

'Ray Appreciation Day' for Miami

April, 26, 2013
4/26/13
1:23
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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MILWAUKEE -- LeBron James recalls that July jackpot moment back in Las Vegas like it was yesterday.

James wasn't at any of the tables or slot machines. Instead, he was in a basketball gym hosting a summer tournament that showcased 100 of the nation's top prep prospects.

When his cell phone rang, James stepped aside for a moment to take the call informing him that Ray Allen had agreed to leave the Boston Celtics to sign with the Miami Heat. James hung up the phone and called Allen right away.

“The first thing I said was, 'This is what we've been talking about for a while,'” James said Thursday as he reflected on that moment in free agency with Allen last summer. “I've always tried to be in his ears, saying, 'Hey, let's join at some point. Let's join. Let's join.' And he was like, 'The time is now.' I knew what he was able to do against me in the past. I knew that threat could add another dimension to our team we haven't had our first two years in Miami.”

It's no wonder James celebrated the hardest Thursday night when Allen reached another career milestone late in the Heat's 104-91 win to take a commanding 3-0 series lead against Milwaukee in the first round of the playoffs.

Allen's 3-pointer with 8:38 left in the game moved him past Reggie Miller to become the NBA's career leader for made 3s in the playoffs. It also capped a devastating 23-7 run that gave the Heat their largest lead at 17 points.

Allen finished with a team-high 23 points, two short of matching the Heat's all-time record for scoring by a reserve in a postseason game. Allen was 5-of-8 from beyond the arc to bring his career playoff total to 322 made 3-pointers. Allen had already passed Miller to become the league's career leader in total 3-point field goals made overall.

Thursday's moment for Allen carried additional sentimental value because it came in the Bradley Center, where he spent the first six years of his career with the Bucks.

“I just think about all the guys that came before me,” Allen said of the shooters he learned from earlier in his career. “There's so many great players, great shooters … that have set the bar. Reggie set the bar. Craig Hodges, I looked up to. I played with Dale Ellis and Dell Curry, both of those guys and Ricky Pierce. I got to see first-hand what it took to prepare and what it took to be a great shooter at any moment in the game. I'm just carrying on the torch.”

On Thursday, that torch was aimed at the Bucks. And the Heat needed every bit of the extra spark Allen provided on a night when Dwyane Wade had the worst playoff shooting performance of his career and Chris Bosh struggled early.

Wade missed 11 of his 12 shots and had six turnovers, but also contributed 11 assists, nine rebounds, five steals and two blocks. Wade's four points were the second-fewest of his career in a playoff game, and he said after the game that he was dealing with recurring soreness in his right knee. Wade also missed most of the second half to receive treatment on the bench for a bruised right forearm.

In many ways, it was Ray Appreciation Day for the Heat.

Wade thanked Allen in the locker room for “picking me up” and carrying the scoring lead at shooting guard.

“We don't take him for granted,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said of Allen, who has played in Boston, Seattle and Milwaukee during his 17-year career. “He's Everyday Ray. Having someone of his caliber, with his resume, off the bench is significant. Without him, we probably don't have a chance to pull away in the fourth. He's done this everywhere he's been. We've been on the other end. That's why we recruited him so hard. He knocks down two, three or four to put you away.”

And that has been a demoralizing reality for the Bucks, who continued a trend of matching the Heat's energy and effort well into the second half, only to see Miami put the game out of reach with a game-changing spurt down the stretch.

Miami used a 9-0 charge in Game 1 on the way to a 110-87 victory. In Game 2, the Heat went on a 12-0 to start the fourth quarter with James anchoring a group of reserves that included Allen, Shane Battier, Norris Cole and Chris Andersen. That unit also inflicted the damage Thursday and have the Heat within a victory Sunday of completing their first series sweep since James arrived three seasons ago.

Jennings essentially said the Bucks can only contain so many of the Heat's weapons. With Wade and Bosh struggling and James held largely in check, the Bucks built a 10-point lead in the first half and felt good about their chances of rallying to get back into the series.

But then Allen warmed up on those familiar rims.

“Ray Allen played here for a long time in his career, so he's used to this arena,” Jennings said. “That was one of the turning points right there. He was knocking down a lot of 3s and getting into the paint. He was really being aggressive. When you have another guy like that coming off the bench, it brings a spark. They are a tough team to beat with LeBron, [Wade] and Bosh. Ray comes in and contributes, and that is what really caused us problems.”

In many ways, Allen is just starting to get comfortable in his role with the Heat. After being a starter throughout his career, Allen struggled to find his rhythm and role at times during his first season as a full-time reserve in Miami. He was also still dealing with recovery soreness in his ankle after having surgery last summer to remove bone spurs.

But Allen appears to have found his footing in his first playoff series with the Heat. He has scored at least 20 points in two of the three games against Milwaukee and is averaging 16.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 3 assists while shooting 42.8 percent from 3-point range in the series.

“In the playoffs there are so many things that take place,” Allen said. “You just have to hunker down and find a way to make this team better. Now we [face] the same team. I know who my matchup is, the plays they're running and what we need to run to be successful. I try to find every opportunity, every moment to be more efficient out on the floor, to make these guys better and allow them to make me better. It's easier more now to settle in.”

Allen was once a player that beat the Heat with big shots.

Now he's providing them a significant postseason boost.

“The No. 1 thing when I got an opportunity to talk to him is it seemed like he had a new start and a breath of fresh air,” James said of that initial discussion with Allen last summer. “It's continued ever since that conversation.”

And James has liked his odds with Allen ever since, too.

Heat Reaction: Game 3 vs. Bucks

April, 25, 2013
4/25/13
9:56
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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Miami off to 'predictable' start

April, 24, 2013
4/24/13
1:24
AM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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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.

LeBron at his best against Bucks -- literally

February, 14, 2012
2/14/12
2:48
AM ET
Windhorst By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com
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MILWAUKEE -- LeBron James has played more than 800 preseason, regular-season and playoff games in his NBA career, scoring in excess of 20,000 points if you pile them all together.

Never has he played a game like Monday night.

Unlike many of his great games, though, this was subtle. But that did not make it unimpressive.

He had four dunks in the Heat’s 114-96 victory, breaking a three-game Miami losing streak to the Milwaukee Bucks that dated to last year and stuck out like a neon sign on their record this season. The dunks, however, were not the show.

Not even the one when he went from outside the 3-point line to the rim in one dribble thanks to a split double team, a long stride and a 13-foot leap. It bent the traveling rules but didn’t break them, believe it or not.

No, James’ dominance came with his decision-making and his endless execution. He took 21 shots. He made 16. One of them, just one, was outside 15 feet from the rim. That one was from 18 feet and it came on his 20th shot of the night.

You can go back and look at the film of those 800 games, but it’ll be a waste of time. There hasn’t been anything else like it.

James killed the Bucks for 35 points in just 33 minutes on the floor and all of it came on relentless interior play. None of them will make the highlights like that long-range dunk. James just made shot after shot after shot from the post and from mid-range.

“How can you guard me when I’m playing like that?” James said afterwards, repeating a question. “You can’t, I don’t think.”

In other words, this was the type of game experts have wanted to see from James for his whole career. The value, coming on a mundane Monday in February at the Bradley Center, is relatively low. Doing that in, say, an NBA Finals game sure would lend some credence to just how focused James has been in adjusting his game.

But it has to start somewhere. James has been building toward this type of game all season. Overall, his field goal percentage is nearly 55 percent, easily the highest of his career. His shooting percentage in postups is 55 percent, the best in the NBA according to the computers at Synergy Sports.

Seeing it in a spreadsheet and seeing it in person are different things. James was 8-of-8 shooting from the left block alone, for example, completely wearing out the Bucks’ defense. Some of them were heavily contested and he wouldn’t make them every night. But the fact that he kept going to it -- heck, James even took a few so-called “heat check” shots from the post -- was quite a difference from what his whole career has been about.

“LeBron is seventh in the league in field goal percentage,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. “I don’t know what LeBron or Erik (Spolestra) would think about how many difficult shots he takes, but he can make them. Maybe they’re not difficult for him.”

Skiles and the Bucks in general have a history of playing rope-a-dope with James by baiting him with the long jumper. During James’ career, he’s lost games in Milwaukee when he scored 50 points and twice when he’s scored 40 points. One happened less than two weeks ago, when the Bucks absorbed a 24-point first quarter and then let James fall in love with the isolation long jumper, even when it stopped falling in the second half.

That was pointed out to James quite pointedly in the pregame film session. He took the information and applied it. And the Bucks were cooked.

What comes now is the question of whether this was an outlier -- the popular statistician’s term for a freak performance -- or is it the start of James really understanding and trusting what he’s been developing.

“I was trying to be aggressive,” James said with a shrug. “I’m just playing good ball.”

Generosity burns Heat in loss to Bucks

January, 22, 2012
1/22/12
11:38
PM ET
Wallace By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com
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MIAMI - As the saying goes, charity begins at home. And if that's the case, the Miami Heat were torched by their own philanthropy on the way to seeing a three-game winning streak end with Sunday's 91-82 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

In a game that saw both teams struggle to generate any rhythm on offense, the difference in the outcome was the turnover margin. The Heat committed 22 turnovers that led directly to 22 points for the Bucks. Meanwhile, Milwaukee had 15 turnovers that led to 12 points for Miami.

That 10-point differential came back to haunt the Heat in a nine-point loss that dropped them to 3-1 on a five-game homestand that wraps up Tuesday against Cleveland.

"It was a physical game - they were up and into us, and that got us a little bit out of our comfort zone," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Milwaukee's aggressive on-ball defense. "Some of those turnovers were forced. Some of them were sloppy on our part."

Struggles to take consistent care of the basketball have been a lingering problem for the Heat, who entered Sunday's game ranked 27th in the league in average turnovers committed at 16.7 per game. That number rose slightly to 17 after Sunday's loss. It was the sixth time this season Miami had committed at least 20 turnovers, and the 22 were one short of the team's season high.

Heat forward Chris Bosh had a career-high eight turnovers against Milwaukee, with the ball-handling mistakes overshadowing his 23 points and six rebounds. Bosh was 8 of 14 from the field as the only Heat player to shoot better than 50 percent, but his two turnovers in the fourth quarter were most costly.

The first of those late-game breakdowns came when Bosh lost the ball with 11:40 left in the fourth on a possession when the Heat could have either tied the game or taken the lead. Instead Stephen Jackson's 3-pointer on the ensuing trip pushed the Bucks' lead to 68-63 with 11:25 remaining.

Another blunder came at the six-minute mark, with Miami trailing 76-72. But Bosh lost the ball out of bounds in front of the Bucks' bench as he tried to escape from two defenders.

Milwaukee continued to capitalize and scored 10 points in the final period off four Miami turnovers to help seal the game. Heat point guard Mario Chalmers also had six turnovers a night after he finished with 11 points and eight assists without a turnover in Saturday's win against Philadelphia.

Bosh said the best thing the Heat can do with an outing like the one they had Sunday is to throw it away, which, ironically is what they did with the ball on too many occasions against the Bucks.

"If we cut those turnovers in half ...," Bosh said before interrupting his own train of thought Sunday. "I know I'm responsible for that. I know I didn't have a good game taking care of the basketball at all. We all go through it in the NBA. We just have to move on and learn from our mistakes."

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