The Miami Heat were without the services of Dwyane Wade, Ray Allen and Greg Oden for Wednesday night’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks. Against many teams, the absence of these players would be an issue. Luckily for the Heat, the Bucks are a horrendous basketball outfit. Miami blew out Milwaukee 96-77, capitalizing on a fast start to pull away from the hapless Bucks early in the contest.
Miami and Milwaukee are on opposite ends of the NBA spectrum. The Heat hold the top seed in the East, while Milwaukee possesses the NBA’s worst record. Knowing this, the Heat could have easily come out flat against such inferior competition. Instead, Miami came out firing on all cylinders. The Heat jumped out to a 14-point lead after the first quarter, carving up the Bucks inside with open drives to the rim. LeBron James and Chris Bosh took advantage of these high-percentage looks, combining for 17 first quarter points.
Miami’s dominance continued into the second quarter, as the Heat’s defensive intensity proved too much for Milwaukee to handle. The Heat’s pressure forced the Bucks into sloppy turnovers and difficult shot attempts. As a result, the Bucks shot under 39 percent from the field in the first half. James’ monstrous dunk in the closing moments of the second quarter provided an exclamation point to the Heat’s first half beat-down, causing Miami’s entire bench to stand in appreciation. At halftime, the Heat led the Bucks 56-38. Miami was largely able to maintain this margin for the rest of the game on their way to an easy victory.
A blowout win over the Bucks may not seem all that impressive to the average NBA fan. However, Wednesday night’s game provided two important takeaways for the Heat. The first is that Miami appears to be coming around to playoff form. The Heat, a team often accused of playing with an on/off switch, came out with passion and intensity against the Bucks. Unlike several stretches during the dog-days of the season, the Heat took their opponent seriously from the tip and never allowed the game to get close.
This approach leads to the second takeaway — if Miami continues to put opponents away early in their final games of the regular season, they will be able to rest their key players before the playoffs begin. James and Bosh both played under 30 minutes against Milwaukee and were able to sit the entire fourth quarter. This rest will help keep their legs fresh for the grind of the playoffs.
With games against the New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks remaining on the schedule, the Heat would benefit from approaching each game like they did against the Bucks on Wednesday night.