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Bucks vs Heat Preview: Milwaukee Looks To Clinch Season Series

2011/2012 NBA Season

9-11 (6-2 home) 16-5 (6-3 road)
February 1, 2012
Bradley Center, Milwaukee, WI
7:00 PM CT
Radio: 620 WTMJ TV: FSN Wisconsin
Probable starters:
Brandon Jennings
PG Mario Chalmers
Shaun Livingston
SG Dwyane Wade
Carlos Delfino SF LeBron James
Luc Mbah a Moute PF Chris Bosh
Drew Gooden C Joel Anthony

(17th) 102.1 - OFFENSE - 108.4 (2nd)
(15th) 102.4 - DEFENSE - 100.2 (9th)
(10th) 92.3 - PACE - 93.7 (3rd)

On the Heat: Hot Hot Hoops / Peninsula is Mightier / ESPN Heat Index / South Florida Sun-Sentinel

After taking down the Miami Heat by a score of 91-82 in the first of three head-to-head matchups in the 2011-12 NBA season, the Milwaukee Bucks will be looking to claim the season series over LeBron James and company at the Bradley Center on Wednesday. This might be the biggest home game on the schedule before playoff implications come into play in April. Here's why: (1) the game features a marquee conference opponent with serious star power that should create a great atmosphere at the BC, (2) it will help to clarify where the Bucks stand after a surprising 5-2 surge in their last seven games, and (3) I'm terrified to attach any serious meaning to the upcoming home game against Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night.

LeBron James Is The Best Basketball Player On The Planet Right Now: Regardless of how you feel about King James and the process that landed him in Miami, there is little doubt that he is playing the best basketball of anyone in the NBA right now. When Frank noted that the Luc Mbah a Moute, Stephen Jackson, Carlos Delfino and Shaun Livingston did well "containing LeBron James (28 pts, 8/18 fg, 13 rebs, 5 ast, 3 to)" in the recap of the Jan 22 win, he was absolutely correct. That otherwise outstanding stat line represents a good defensive effort against James this season. Think about that for a second.

I will let Bill Simmons of Grantland hammer the point home just to make sure I don't obfuscate James' dominance:

I always thought Jordan's 1988-89 season (32.5 PPG, 8.0 APG, 8.0 RPG, 2.9 SPG, 53.8 percent FG, 85 percent FT, 31.1 PER) was the most impressive statistical season by a modern perimeter player ... and yet, here's LeBron averaging 29.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 55 percent shooting and a 33.38 PER (highest ever) during a condensed schedule. It's impossible. How can someone have their greatest season during THIS season?

If you can't find a way to enjoy or appreciate watching LeBron James, the NBA might not be for you. Real talk.

Brandon Jennings is the best basketball player on the Bucks right now. It's hard to argue with Jennings' performance over the last 10 games -- 21.4 points and 5.2 assists per game on 45.6 percent shooting -- and if he leaves his ugly first two seasons in the dust there won't be much left to argue about. Brandon is making some better decisions with the basketball, but even when he does not he has been hitting contested fade away jumpers and threes. In his first matchup against the Heat he shot just 5-20 from the field and 1-10 from beyond the arc, but stabilized his night in a rare way by getting to the free throw line 13 times -- he only averages 3.1 free throw attempts per game this season, which is alarmingly low for someone who takes technical shots and gets to ice games in chase-and-foul scenarios. How far has Jennings come so far this season? Really far. Here is where he currently ranks among NBA point guards who average 20+ minutes per game in the 2011-12 season:

Brandon Jennings' rankings among PGs with 20+ Minutes Per Game In 2011-12

FG% 3PT% eFG% TS% Assist Rate TO Rate AST:TO Pts/GM PER
20th 16th 14th 17th 35th 3rd 22nd 3rd 9th

This is a huge improvement over his early career, and hopefully proof that he can continue to move into the top half of players at his position. If there is any truth to the recent surge from the Bucks, Brandon Jennings is at the epicenter of that movement towards a .500 record.

Return Of Big Three Requires Return Of Big D. Dwyane Wade missed the first first matchup with the Bucks due to a lingering ankle injury, but he recently returned to the lineup and has scored 65 points in last three games combined. He may not quite be 100 percent, but his production is right back at the level where he left off. Andrew Bogut has always done wonders for covering up perimeter gaffes and protecting the paint on defense, but now Skiles will have to find creative ways to mix lineups and put top defenders on both Wade and James to keep them shooting jumpers all night. If the Bucks fail to keep those two out of the lane, it is going to be a long night, as Drew Gooden isn't exactly a strong interior presence. Can Carlos Delfino and Shaun Livingston do enough to stop Wade and allow LRMAM to focus on James?

Power In Numbers. While the Heat rely on three players to dominate, the Bucks use a deep rotation and try to ride the hot hand. In recent games, everyone has been doing their job almost too well. In the past four games:

  • Beno Udrih has dished out 24 assists while committing just 3 turnovers.
  • Drew Gooden has averaged 18.3 points on 56.5 percent shooting to go with 7.5 rebounds per game.
  • Mike Dunleavy has averaged 14.3 points on 61.8 percent shooting and has looked a lot more comfortable and explosive on the court.
  • The Bucks bench has outscored the opposing team's bench in all four contests, and often by a wide margin.

Complete team efforts are what the Bucks will need to beat good NBA teams, and what better time to find out whether the formula is workable and sustainable than Wednesday night against the Miami Heat.

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