The Miami Heat have been making up ground on the struggling Milwaukee Bucks for the past month, and they get a golden chance to take another big step tonight in Milwaukee.
The Heat roll into the BMO Harris Bradley Center just 1.5 games (and two wins) adrift of the sixth seeded Bucks, though recent history would suggest it's only a matter of time before the Heat zoom past the stumbling Bucks -- and thus avoid a likely first round date with LeBron James. Milwaukee's 108-90 home loss to the Cavs on Sunday was their sixth defeat in a row, giving tonight a strong hint of "must win" -- at least if the Bucks are intent on hanging onto their current playoff seed.
On the plus side, the Bucks already hold the tiebreaker between the two teams thanks to a 3-0 record in the season series thus far, and another win tonight would give the Bucks their first season sweep of the Heat since the 90/91 season.
On paper it's not too difficult to see why the Heat are making up ground. Even with Chris Bosh sidelined for the season by blood clots in his lungs, Miami can still roll out a starting five featuring two former all-stars (Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng), last season's most improved player (Goran Dragic) and this season's most surprising player (Hassan Whiteside). In other words, there's plenty more star power on Erik Spoelstra's bench than on Jason Kidd's, and over the past month it's starting to show.
While the Bucks have dropped 13 of 17 games since the trade deadline, the Heat have pieced together a more respectable 10-7, including wins over the Cavs, Blazers and Suns. They're not world-beaters, but they've ranked 11th in offensive efficiency and eighth in defensive efficiency since the acquiring Dragic after ranking 20th and 21st, respectively, before the all-star break.
Dragic has been doing Goran Dragic-typre stuff since landing in South Beach, averaging 16.7 ppg and 5.5 apg while converting at robust 53% from the field (though just 30% from deep). Interestingly, the Bucks could have snagged Dragic as a midseason rental at the deadline, but opted instead for Michael Carter-Williams over the expiring Dragic (who was shipped to Miami for two future first rounders) and the Lakers' top-five protected first round pick (which went to Philly). Of course no one has an opinion about that move, eh?
The Bucks are hoping to have Jared Dudley (back) and O.J. Mayo (hamstring) back from injury at some point this week, though Dudley has been ruled out of tonight's game. Mayo will test his sore hamstring during warm-ups and be a game-time decision.
As for the Heat, both Bosh and fellow big man Josh McRoberts (meniscus surgery) are out for the season.
|14/15 NBA Season|
|March 24, 2015|
|BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI
|Fox Sports Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ|
|Michael Carter-Williams||PG||Goran Dragic|
|Khris Middleton||SG||Dwyane Wade|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo||SF||Luol Deng|
|Ersan Ilyasova||PF||Udonis Haslem|
|Zaza Pachulia||C||Hassan Whiteside|
|2014/15 Advanced Stats|
|102.7 (24th)||ORtg||104.1 (19th)
Opponent Coverage: Hot Hot Hoops