NBA Big Game Focus: Bucks pursue playoff revenge in Heat double-header

By Ben Spratt 28 December 2020 5
NBA Big Game Focus: Bucks pursue playoff revenge in Heat double-header

The Milwaukee Bucks face an old foe in their first double-header of the NBA season as they visit the Miami Heat this week.

The Bucks were the top seed in the East in 2019-20 but crashed out of the playoffs to the Heat, who went on to lose to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals.

After a difficult start to the new campaign, falling to 1-2 with a shock defeat at the New York Knicks, Milwaukee face a tricky road trip.

The Bucks are in Miami to play the Heat on both Tuesday and Wednesday to close out 2020, with the initial game their first meeting since last season's one-sided playoff series.

Jimmy Butler was key to that success but is now being assessed day-to-day as he manages an ankle injury.

"I don’t have an update today," coach Erik Spoelstra said on Sunday. "We'll just continue to get him treatment and then we'll put together a plan."

Milwaukee must have a plan, too, as they aim to recover from their Knicks humbling and gain revenge for last year.
 

TOP PERFORMERS

Miami Heat - Bam Adebayo

If Butler does miss out, that would deal a big blow to the Heat's hopes of again getting the better of the Bucks.

The influential small forward, who averaged 23.4 points per game in their playoff series, taunted Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo as he claimed: "He can't guard me!"

Veteran Andre Iguodala may come in for Butler, but Adebayo would become Miami's main man in his absence.

Adebayo signed a record-breaking five-year contract extension in November off the back of his performances last season as he made the All-Defensive Second Team and then averaged 17.8 points, 10.3 rebounds and 1.0 steals in the postseason.

The 23-year-old shows no signs of slowing and in the Heat's season opener against the Orlando Magic had 25 points for just the fifth time in his regular season career, all of which have occurred since December 2019.

Milwaukee Bucks - Giannis Antetokounmpo

The Bucks' past two outstanding regular seasons have been built on back-to-back MVP campaigns from Antetokounmpo, but he has not yet delivered in the postseason.

Antetokounmpo will not lack motivation this week as he takes on the team that dealt him such a testing playoff experience in the bubble.

Having averaged 30.6 points against Orlando in the first round - a 4-1 series win - Antetokounmpo's season steadily turned sour over the course of a back-and-forth with Miami.

His foul on Butler gave the Heat talisman game-winning walk-off free throws in Game 2, securing a 2-0 Miami lead, and Antetokounmpo then twisted his ankle in Game 3.

He was subsequently limited in Game 4 and missed Game 5 altogether as the Heat clinched their own 4-1 series triumph.

Beset by these injury problems, the league's dominant regular season player saw his average drop to 21.8 points per game in an Eastern Conference Semifinals exit.
 

KEY BATTLE: CAN BUCKS GET GIANNIS FREE?

For Antetokounmpo to be Milwaukee's top performer, they must provide a platform for him to succeed. It was at Miami last season that the issue with relying so heavily on Antetokounmpo was laid bare.

Even before a painful postseason series, the Bucks had twice been beaten by the Heat, suffering their second-largest defeat by point differential of the 2019-20 campaign in their 105-89 road reverse in March.

That game saw Milwaukee's worst offensive output of the season, too, as Miami effectively stifled the 'Greek Freak'.

Antetokounmpo had just 13 points, only scoring fewer when he played a mere 10 minutes against the Washington Wizards, as he shot 6-18 from the floor and 0-4 from three.

The Heat shared their defensive duties around, as Adebayo, Derrick Jones Jr, Butler and Goran Dragic all faced Antetokounmpo, but it was the former who had most joy.

Adebayo, who finished with three blocks and a steal, defended Antetokounmpo on 10 of his field goal attempts, of which he made just two.

This was still a team effort, though, with the home side able to create a wall between Antetokounmpo and the paint, forcing him to rely on a flimsy mid-range shot.

With Jrue Holiday signed and Khris Middleton again impressing - averaging a career-high 26.7 points over three games - the Bucks will hope they have enough options to keep Miami occupied and give Antetokounmpo some space this time around.
 

HEAD TO HEAD

The Bucks did earn a pair of victories against the Heat last season but went down 2-1 over their regular season series and 4-1 in the playoffs.

Miami's dominance in this game is nothing new, though.

The three-time NBA champions boast a 70-45 lead over Milwaukee all-time in the regular season, while their postseason advantage stands at 8-1, having swept the Bucks en route to the 2013 title.

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Ben Spratt

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