On the Heat: Hot Hot Hoops
Heat Index. Playing without the suspended Dwyane Wade (no kicking!), Miami slumped to a surprising 109-99 defeat in Detroit last night, snapping a six-game Heat winning streak. LeBron James provided his usual brilliance (35 points, 6 rebs, 5 ast, 6 stl) and Chris Bosh added 28 on 17 shots, but the rest of the Heat combined for a measly 13/38 shooting while the Pistons shot a scorching 58.1% from the field. Miami is tied with Oklahoma City and Memphis for having played the fewest road games in the league (6-5 road, 14-2 home), and they've been fairly vulnerable there so far this season. Still, Miami losing last night probably won't help the Bucks' cause, as you'd expect it to only offer the Heat further motivation to get back on track.
Little Heat. Miami's gone small for long stretches this season and to good effect. At ESPN, Kevin Arnovitz writes that "the Heat have a net rating of minus-5.4 with LeBron James as a small forward, and plus-11.4 when he's sharing the floor with only one big man." However, they've started Udonis Haslem alongside Bosh and James since early December, in contrast to the Battier-LeBron-Bosh lineup the Bucks saw starting in Miami on November 21. The Bucks staged a furious comeback and nearly won that game behind 17 points and 18 rebounds from since-forgotten rookie John Henson, but James and Bosh were too much in overtime as the Heat pulled out a nervy 113-106 victory.
Matchups. Starting both Marquis Daniels and Luc Mbah a Moute could be rather helpful against a team like the Heat, though on paper it seems likely that Monta Ellis will still be tasked with guarding Wade while Daniels will draw James initially. Mbah a Moute might be the Bucks' best option defending any of the Heat's Big Three, but if Haslem starts it throws a bit of a monkey wrench into things. Sanders guards Bosh, right? And it's not Skiles' style to bend over backwards to hide guys defensively to start games, so I'm not holding my breath that Ellis will somehow end up on Haslem. So is it possible that Luc starts against Wade, LeBron and Bosh and doesn't defend any of them? Could be.
Starters. Speaking of which: while the Bucks have done respectably in the won-loss column with Daniels and Mbah a Moute starting, I'm fully on board with going a different direction when it comes to the Bucks' starting lineup. I actually have a soft spot for both guys in general and I can see the argument for putting three defenders on the court with Jennings and Ellis, but offensively it's a bizarre combination that almost seems resigned to not spacing the floor at all. In 105 minutes, the current starting lineup has been outscored by 13 points, so there's no magic to what they're doing on the court either. And let's be honest: it's not like the Bucks' lineups happen out of some grand strategic plan anyway. The latest iteration is simply what Skiles stumbled into between injuries and other guys being ineffective, and now he doesn't want to go away from it with the team playing...OK.
Beyond that, the Bucks have once again fallen into the habit of starting Mbah a Moute at power forward and, well, the Bucks have enough of those already, don't they? Besides that, Mbah a Moute's post opportunities have dried up playing against bigger guys at PF, which was one of the appealing aspects of his small forward play earlier this month.
With Ersan Ilyasova quietly putting together a solid month (10.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 48% threes and 55% true shooting in 23 mpg), I think my preferred lineup at this point would probably be Mbah a Moute / Ilyasova / Sanders up front, with Udrih, Dunleavy and Udoh first off the bench. I realize Ilyasova bungled his starting opportunities early in the season, but the Bucks' scoring explosion against the Nets offered another example of how the Bucks' offense needs floor spacers (Ersan and Dunleavy) to be remotely effective. Shifting Mbah a Moute into the small forward rotation would also open up more opportunities for getting Henson or (gasp!) Dalembert involved as a second unit big man or, depending on matchups, going smaller with Daniels or Tobias Harris. I'm not saying it's fool-proof, but it does seem like a more sustainable, common-sense approach, right?
Offense. And speaking of the Bucks' offense, Charles Gardner writes that Skiles expects to need plenty of it to hang with the high-octane Heat.
"You've got to score against them,"Skiles said. "You're going to play some great D on those guys on certain occasions and they're still going to score and make shots.
"We're not going to able to score 92 probably and win the game. We've got to get up around 100 and hope we can limit their shooting percentage a little bit, make them take multiple shots, hopefully get the rebound and get our pace going."
Wednesday's 108-point outburst was MIlwaukee's first 100-point effort in nine games, as the Bucks have slipped to just 27th in the league in scoring efficiency and seen their pace fall off as well (down to 7th in the league from first for much of November).
Tobias Returns to practice. Andrew Gruman reports that Tobias Harris practiced on Friday for the first time since suffering an elbow laceration on December 12 against the Kings, and will be probable for tonight's game. That's good news and Harris actually put in a very respectable effort against LeBron in the first game against Miami, but don't hold your breath expecting Tobias to play much of a part in tonight's contest.