The Miami Heat is still the favorite to win the NBA title, even if a record of 4 – 3 has taken some of the bloom off that championship-seeking rose. Fresh off a buzzer-beating loss to the Boston Celtics on Saturday, Miami looks to keep the flowers from wilting when they host the perennially-rebuilding Milwaukee Bucks Tuesday night at the American Airlines Arena.
The Bucks (2 – 3) are not the same team that was swept out of last season’s playoff by the Heat, but they have not necessarily improved. Some might argue that Milwaukee has added through subtraction, redefining themselves yet again with a new head coach and after losing three key free agents. Larry Drew takes the helm of a young Bucks squad, a team that is lacking a scoring punch with the departures of Brandon Jennings (now with the Detroit Pistons), Monta Ellis (Dallas Mavericks) and J.J. Reddick (L.A. Clippers).
Milwaukee averages 94 points per game, fourth-worst in the NBA. Free agent acquisitions O.J. Mayo (18.6 PPG), Gary Neal (13.6 PPG) and ex-Heat swingman Caron Butler (12.6) have picked up the scoring slack, while forward John Henson’s 61.5% field goal percentage is second-best in the league. But things are off to a rocky start in Brew City, with the loss of sharpshooting forward Carlos Delfino for the year to a foot injury. The Bucks might be shorthanded when they face Miami, as center Larry Sanders (thumb), Ersan Ilyasova (ankle) and Luke Ridnour (back) have all missed games due to injury. Brandon Wright (hamstring) returned to the starting lineup Saturday in a loss to Dallas and rookie point guard Nick Wolters has filled the void left by Ridnour admirably, posting the league’s third-best assist-to-turnover ratio (6.2).
There are reasons for concern in Miami as well. The Heat is dead last in rebounding (with Miluwakee just one spot higher). And the Boston loss highlighted particularly-glaring holes in the Heat’s perimeter defense, ones they look to fill as they seek improvement throughout the regular season. Miami’s players addressed this issue after Monday’s practice, with LeBron James’ colorful assessment sure to make headlines:
We’ve been playing like s___ defensively. We’re terrible on defense, and we have to change that.
Will an underwhelming Bucks team be the remedy to Miami’s defensive woes? Will the loss to Boston be the spark the Heat needs? Tip-off is at 7:30 P.M. – stay tuned to see if James fecal denouncement of Miami’s struggles might be just what is needed to fertilize the Heat’s championship hopes.