The Heat’s losing streak stretched to five on Wednesday when they went down 101-109 to the Rockets. Goran Dragic and Josh Richardson both scored 30 points, and Hassan Whiteside had 17 points and 16 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough for Miami.
They have now tumbled to seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings, with a record of 29-26. A little over a week ago, they were in fourth, and closing in on the Cavs for third.
The Bucks have now won three in a row, after they overcame a Knicks team rattled by an early knee injury to Kristaps Porzingis to win 103-89. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 23 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, while Eric Bledsoe added 23 points and eight assists.
The Bucks are now 30-23, and have forced their way ahead of Miami in the standings. They are in fifth place in the east.
Three keys to the game
Heat gone cold - Miami’s five game losing streak hasn’t seen them play terribly, but they have regressed just enough on both offense and defense to continue losing. For the season, they score 103.1 points per 100 possessions, while in the last five games that's down to 101.4 Their defensive rating is 104.5 overall on the year, but has ballooned out to 108.3 in the last five matches.
Bucks turning up the heat - Milwaukee have won seven of their past eight games, and are playing as well as they have all season. Predominantly, their improvement has come on the defensive end. For the season they allow 106 points per 100 possessions, but in the past eight games that has dropped to just 97.2, the best in the league.
The boards - The Bucks have struggled with rebounding all season - they grab just 48.2% of available boards, better than only three teams in the league. Miami are 12th in the league, but in the past ten games they have pushed up to fourth. This is largely down to the improved form of Whiteside, and if he can keep playing well, it will give the Heat a big advantage.
Matchup to watch
Goran Dragic vs Eric Bledsoe - These two are both reliable anchors for their respective sides, without being outstanding players. Dragic will play in the all-star game, but only after injuries to other selected players. He is having a solid season though, averaging 17.4 points and 4.8 assists while leading a side which had one of the best records in the league in January. Bledsoe has improved Milwaukee since arriving earlier in the season, and during this time he's put up respectable figures of 17.1 points, 4.3 assists and 2.1 steals a night.
Miami Heat predicted starting lineup
PG - Goran Dragic | SG - Josh Richardson | SF - Derrick Jones Jr | PF - Justise Winslow | C - Hassan Whiteside
Milwaukee Bucks predicted starting lineup
PG - Eric Bledsoe | SG - Tony Snell | SF - Khris Middleton | PF - Giannis Antetokounmpo | C - Thon Maker
Whiteside was influential in both of the Heat’s two wins over Milwaukee in January. In these games, he shot a combined 15-18 (83%) on the way to averages of 21 points, 12 rebounds and a huge five blocks.
Antetokounmpo’s career averages against Miami are right around his overall averages. He puts up 16.3 points per night on 49.7% shooting (including an impressive 45.5% from beyond the arc), while also contributing 6.6 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.2 blocks.
The Bucks have been given very slight favoritism in what is expected to be a close game. The line has been set at 1.5 points, and Milwaukee to cover this is a good bet. Though the game will take place in Miami, the Heat simply aren’t in great form, while the Bucks are on a tear. Stick with the form team, and take Milwaukee to cover the line.
The Bucks will be able to continue their streak in this game. Miami are a team full of solid players, while the Bucks revolve around one superstar and a couple of more than handy sidekicks, and Antetokounmpo and co. will prove too much for a struggling Heat team to cope with.
The Greek Freak will put in an impressive performance as always, and with Bledsoe and Middleton both playing well around him, the Bucks are tough to beat. They’ll run out winners in a close game with a 104-99 victory.
The game will be broadcast locally on Fox Sports Sun and Fox Sports Wisconsin. Tip-off is at 8pm ET.