With the Orlando Magic in the rearview mirror, the Milwaukee Bucks get the opportunity to test their mettle against the always-tough Miami Heat. Miami was able to take down the Indiana Pacers four games to none, and while Indiana was a depleted squad it showed the strength of the Erik Spoelstra-led squad. Diego Quezada of SB Nation’s Hot Hot Hoops was kind enough to answer some of our questions leading up to this series. Be sure to check out our Q&A over there, and let’s get this thing going!
Q: In the regular season, the Bucks went 1-2 against the Heat (with their lone win coming in the bubble, after a significant second half comeback). Bucks fans see Miami on the schedule and grimace; how do Heat fans react when they play Milwaukee?
I can’t speak for all Heat fans, but I would say they fall along a continuum of feeling like Miami has either a puncher’s chance or a chance-chance to beat the Milwaukee Bucks. (I happen to fall toward the “puncher’s chance” end of the spectrum.) Heat fans emphasize the fact that Miami has lots of players to “build a wall” against Giannis Antetokounmpo — Bam Adebayo, Jae Crowder, Jimmy Butler, Andre Iguodala. They also highlight the fact that Miami is a good 3-point shooting team, and the Bucks give up a lot of 3-pointers.
Q: Miami plays at one of the league’s slowest paces (98.3, 27th in the NBA) but boasts a top-10 offense. How do they do it?
Erik Spoelstra’s teams have never ranked high in pace. The 2012-13 Heat, which won 27 straight games, ranked 23rd in pace. Miami finished that year with the second-best offensive rating.
This year, Spoelstra has molded a Heat offense that resembles the 2014 Spurs team that dominated Miami. The Bam Adebayo/Duncan Robinson dribble hand-off has been superb this season; the Heat score an incredible 114.8 points per 100 possessions when the two share the court. Miami players know when to cut to the basket.
And although he hasn’t hit his jumper this season, Jimmy Butler has lived at the foul line. He went to the line 9.1 times per game during the regular season, and in the first round, he made 10.5 trips to the charity stripe.
Q: Can we expect to see Bam Adebayo matched up with Giannis Antetokounmpo? Who’s going to take the Khris Middleton assignment?
Yes, I would expect Bam Adebayo to take on Antetokounmpo — at least at the end of games. The Heat won’t just rely on one defender, though. The other defenders — Crowder, Butler, Iguodala, maybe Derrick Jones Jr. — will have to cut off Antetokounmpo’s drives to the basket and then sprint out to the Bucks’ 3-point shooters.
As for Khris Middleton, I would expect to see Butler or Crowder start out on him. The Bucks, of course, will try to get Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro or Goran Dragic switched onto Middleton. The Heat may try to aggressively trap Middleton to force turnovers and get the ball out of his hands.
Q: The Bucks’ defense is notorious for shutting down the paint and avoiding fouling, but they allow a ton of threes. Does this play right into Eric Spoelstra’s hands?
In some ways it does, in some ways it doesn’t. Milwaukee no doubt will try to face-guard Duncan Robinson and allow Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala to take open 3s. For whatever reason, Crowder shot 29 percent on 5.9 3-point attempts per game with the Grizzlies and 44.5 percent on 6.4 3-point attempts per game with the Heat this year. (He shot 33 percent in the first round.) If Crowder can hit 3s in this series, it’ll go a long way toward helping Miami’s chances.
Robinson shot 2-for-8 from 3 in Game 1 of the first round and 1-for-7 in Game 4. The Heat can’t afford Robinson to go cold from 3 against the Bucks.
Q: Jimmy Butler seems like the most Miami Heat player in a long time. How has he been this year, and what’s his outlook going forward?
Butler has been nothing short of amazing for the Heat. Alonzo Mourning, who epitomizes Heat culture, called Butler a “miniature version of me.” He’s been a point forward for Miami, averaging a career-high in assists, plays both ends of the court and has been a great mentor to young players like Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo.
Butler will turn 31 years old next month, and he has three more years left on his contract. I expect him to continue being an effective All-Star level performer throughout the length of his contract. The Heat will look to develop their young core and add a third star to join him and Adebayo.
Q: What’s your prediction for this series? Who’s going to the Eastern Conference Finals?
My pick is Bucks in 7.
Thanks again to Diego and Hot Hot Hoops for taking the time. Check out their community, and hopefully we can keep this going as the Bucks proceed further into the playoffs!