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By Joe B.
Photo Credit: Gary Dineen
The Miami HEAT face the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday night at BMO Harris Bradley Center. The HEAT defeated the Bucks 97-79 in their last meeting on Jan. 14. Tip-off is set for 8:00 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 7:30 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: What stuck out to you the most about Miami’s loss in Chicago?
Couper Moorhead: Afternoon games are always an adventure. Back-to-back afternoon games are even more of a journey. That doesn’t excuse a loss, but it’s important context that has to be mentioned with a game like this. And even with Miami looking a step slow for most of the afternoon, they only surrendered an average Shot Quality game to Chicago. The Bulls, for their part, just happened to hit 16-of-39 from deep just as the Bucks happened to shoot 4-of-28 from downtown the day before. The HEAT could have been much better in their attention to defensive detail, but sometimes variance hits at the wrong time.
Still, Miami closed things to five points in the final minutes because they kept plugging away even when they weren’t at their best. Goran Dragić kept putting pressure on Chicago’s defense, getting the HEAT into the bonus early as they closed with the usual lineup strategy of getting as many shooters on the floor as possible and letting Dragić go to work. They fell short, but they didn’t fold.
Joe Beguiristain: With Miami on the tail end of an unusual back-to-back, the team just didn’t have enough energy on the defensive end to come away with the win. After the Bulls got into a nice rhythm early in front of their home crowd, they were able to carry that throughout the afternoon.
That said, Goran Dragić (of course) and Kelly Olynyk led a furious fourth quarter rally and combined for 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting in the period. Thanks to the duo and Wayne Ellington, the HEAT were able to get within five a few times down the stretch, but Chicago responded each time.
Although the loss was disappointing, it’s important to note that Miami recorded a season-high 35 assists on 40 made field goals against the Bulls. While Dragić and Olynyk accounted for nearly half of those, Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow also came through with some nice feeds. When the HEAT’s defense is up to its usual standards, that kind of ball movement on the other end will win you games more often than not.
2: Are there any immediate lessons to take from Sunday’s win over the Bucks into this second matchup?
Couper: The HEAT shouldn’t expect the same Milwaukee team. Just as Miami went from great to not-so-good in their afternoon back-to-back, the Bucks followed up a below-standards effort Sunday with an impressive 104-95 road victory against the Wizards on Monday.
Miami won the first matchup largely because James Johnson did yeoman’s work keeping Giannis Antetokounmpo – who was a season-low minus-20 – in front of him and with the rest of the team packing the paint the Bucks scored just 34 points inside as they shot 4-of-28 from three. The next day, they shot 8-of-16 from three and forced 23 Washington turnovers. As long as Miami controls their mistakes and protects the paint they should be fine, but you can’t expect the Bucks to shoot 31.6 overall no matter how well you’re defending. MVP-caliber players find a way to get back to playing like an MVP-caliber player, and good offensive teams correct their mistakes.
Joe: While the HEAT defended extremely well in that last matchup with the Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton had uncharacteristically poor games. As Coup alluded to above, all three of those guys turned things around against the Wizards and helped propel Milwaukee to victory on Monday.
Although Miami limited the trio the day prior, you can’t take that for granted. It took a collective effort from the HEAT to come out on top, whether it was James Johnson using his strength advantage against Antetokounmpo or Josh Richardson disrupting Bledsoe and Middleton. Bam Adebayo also turned some heads with a few solid defensive possessions against Antetokounmpo and Middleton.
We’ll see if Miami can replicate that on the road this time around.
3: If the HEAT are without Tyler Johnson, for just Wednesday night or an extended period of time, how do you expect them to adjust?
Couper: We don’t yet know how long Miami will be without Johnson, but it seems likely we won’t be on the court Wednesday night. In the short term, Erik Spoelstra could shift either Justise Winslow or Derrick Jones Jr. back into the starting lineup – it seems unlikely that Wayne Ellington will be moved off his bench role – but that may entail moving James Johnson back to the second unit and starting Kelly Olynyk, just to keep enough shooting in the starting group. That said, James Johnson was moved into the starting lineup seemingly to defend Antetokounmpo, so Spoelstra might be playing things game-to-game until Tyler Johnson’s situation becomes more clear. All that said, while there’s been no official word on him there’s always a chance Rodney McGruder return in the next month or so and help sort out those starting groups.
Joe: If Tyler Johnson is unable to play Wednesday night, I’d expect Erik Spoelstra to start Derrick Jones Jr. at the two spot. As Coup mentioned above, Justise Winslow and Wayne Ellington are also possibilities, but Spoelstra seems to be easing Winslow back from injury and Ellington has been vital off the bench. What’s more, Jones Jr. fared well as a starter against the Raptors and Pacers last week (although Winslow wasn’t available yet). In terms of the games that lie ahead, I think Coach Spo will base his starting lineup on the individual matchups like he’s done a few times when missing players this season.
Regardless, it’ll be tough replicating what TJ brings to the table. In addition to being one of the HEAT’s biggest catch-and-shoot threats, he’s also continued to give maximum effort on the defensive end. While Jones Jr., Winslow and Ellington are certainly capable of getting the job done in his absence, it’s always tough when a key contributor is out.
Jan. 14 – Bucks at HEAT
Feb. 8 – HEAT at Bucks
The HEAT have won seven of eight and are 25-18. The Bucks have dropped two of three and enter the contest at 23-20. Goran Dragić leads Miami in points (17.3) and assists (4.9) per game. Giannis Antetokounmpo leads Milwaukee in points (28.3), rebounds (10.1) and assists (4.5) per contest.
HEAT Offense: 103.7 (23) HEAT Defense: 104.6 (11) Bucks Offense: 107.4 (8) Bucks Defense: 107.3 (24)
By Joe B.
Photo Credit: Ron Turenne
The Miami HEAT face the Chicago Bulls Monday afternoon at United Center. The HEAT defeated the Bulls 100-93 in their last meeting on Nov. 26. Tip-off is set for 3:30 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 3:00 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.
1: What was the best part of Miami’s convincing victory over Milwaukee?
Couper Moorhead: Their defense. Sure, Goran Dragić caught fire with some deep threes late as the HEAT pulled away but the story of this game was Miami holding a Top 10 offense to 31.6 percent shooting. Part of that was Miami limiting their live-ball turnovers so the Bucks weren’t able to get out into transition, and another part of that was the Bucks shooting 4-of-28 from three despite generating a decent amount of good looks, but Miami did a remarkably consistent job shutting down the paint. James Johnson in particular did very well staying in front of Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was a season worst minus-20, and in effect shutting down much of Milwaukee’s inside-out game. Then there was both Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo challenging every shot that did make its way inside the paint and what you’re left with was as complete a defensive game as Miami has had this season.
Joe Beguiristain: I like how Miami took control in the third quarter. Thanks to Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragić, the HEAT blew the game wide open and turned a two-point deficit at halftime into a 12-point lead entering the fourth quarter. In particular, Whiteside was extremely active on both ends of the floor and made life difficult for John Henson and Eric Bledsoe, who actually fouled the big fella twice in the game. In addition to absorbing a lot of contact inside and finishing plays at the rim, Whiteside also led Miami with 11 shots contested on the afternoon. Of course, Bam Adebayo and James Johnson also answered the call on the defensive end and played a major role in the Bucks shooting just 26.3 percent in the second half.
When you factor in Josh Richardson’s strong two-way play and Dragić’s electric 11-point fourth quarter, you see just how Miami was able to blow out Milwaukee on Sunday.
2: What have we learned from the first two matchups with Chicago so far?
Couper: Miami learned what the rest of the league has learned since those games: Chicago is better than what their early-season record might have indicated. The Bulls are a team full of young, more-than-capable players that play hard. They haven’t taken that type of formula to the same levels of success that Miami has over the past calendar year, but it’s a similar idea. Like the HEAT, the Bulls are not a team you can afford to underestimate.
That depth has shown up in the previous two matchups, as Chicago had six players in double figures when they met in late November and that doesn’t even include Kris Dunn (0-of-6 shooting), one of their best players of the past month, or Nikola Mirotić, who had yet to return from injury. Chicago’s guards will get in the paint or pull-up off the dribble, they have shooters and they’re very good at attacking mismatches, whether it’s beating a post front on Lauri Markkanen or finding a weak link in the defense. It may still be a developing, rebuilding group, but they can find ways to put pressure on you if you make mistakes.
Joe: We’ve learned that the Bulls shouldn’t be taken lightly even though they have a poor record. In that first matchup with Chicago on Nov. 1, rookie Lauri Markkanen had a great game and showed his versatility throughout the night. While he didn’t shoot as well in the following meeting with the HEAT, he did tally a double-double.
That said, it isn’t all about Markkanen. Although the Bulls are ranked 28th in the league in offensive efficiency, they’re near the top in assist percentage, handoffs and fake handoffs. In other words, Chicago knows how to play as a unit and aims to move the ball in order to find the best possible shot. Again, it hasn’t translated to sustained success or an efficient offense yet, but the good habits are being built.
3: While they’re still working their way up the standings, how has Chicago turned their season around?
Couper: Getting healthy has helped as Nikola Mirotić and Zach LaVine (back just this week) both offer perimeter shooting that gives Chicago’s guards even more spacing to work with. The Bulls ran off a seven-game winning streak of their own in December and Monday will go for their second three-game streak since that first one ended.
A mini-breakout from starting guard Kris Dunn – brought over from Minnesota in the Jimmy Butler trade – has been a key part of it as he’s averaging 15.5 points with 8.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game since the seven-game streak began. Now, with LaVine back, Chicago’s rotation has become a little bit more clear as they’re able to start five players all at their natural positions while bringing in a combination of steady, veteran play and energetic youth off the bench. It matters that those young players play well, as Dunn in particular has been doing, but it helps that they’re all being placed in a position to succeed, not just in the schemes being used and plays being called but simply in having role consistency from game-to-game.
Joe: After a very rough start to the season, the Bulls have gone 13-7 over their last 20 games. In addition to getting healthy like Coup mentioned above, Chicago has also upped its offensive and defensive efficiency to league average during that span.
As I alluded to in my previous response, the Bulls aren’t just about Markkanen even though he’s been on an absolute tear of late. Like Miami, Chicago has a bunch of guys who can beat you on any given night. Perhaps the one player who offers Bulls fans the most excitement is Zach LaVine. The 22-year-old showed pretty much no rust in his return to action against the Pistons on Saturday night, as he knocked down a handful of pull-up jumpers and scored 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting in 19 minutes of action. Nikola Mirotić, meanwhile, continued to light it up from beyond the arc and led Chicago with 16 points off the bench.
Long story short, the Bulls will look a whole lot different than they did in November. Luckily enough, the HEAT are also on a little bit of a roll themselves. We’ll see how it all pans out on MLK Day.
Nov. 26 – HEAT at Bulls
Nov. 1 – Bulls at HEAT
The HEAT have won seven straight and are 25-17. The Bulls have won two in a row and enter the contest at 16-27. Hassan Whiteside leads Miami in rebounds (11.7) and blocks (1.8) per game. Nikola Mirotić leads Chicago in scoring at 17.3 points per contest.
HEAT Offense: 103.6 (22) HEAT Defense: 104.2 (8) Bulls Offense: 101.2 (28) Bulls Defense: 107.8 (25)