Defensive-minded Heat look to slow down Bucks
The Miami Heat are adhering to an old sports adage that states "offense sells tickets, defense wins championships."
At this point, however, the three-time NBA champions are simply concerned about reaching the playoffs, and talk of adding a fourth title can wait just a bit.
The Heat (32-25) host the front-running Milwaukee Bucks at AmericanAirlines Arena on Friday. The game will mark the third of four meetings between the teams, and they conclude the season series next Friday in Milwaukee.
The Atlantic Division-leading club received the help it needed in the Eastern Conference standings on Wednesday as the Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic both lost.
Meanwhile, the Heat took care of their own business by clamping down on the Detroit Pistons in the third quarter in South Florida, scoring the first 21 points and limiting the visitors to just eight on the way to a 108-74 win, the team's sixth in its last eight games.
Miami led from start to finish, and the 21-0 run was its longest this season. It pushed the lead to 75-49, essentially sealing the victory, as the team improved to 5-1 in March.
On four occasions this season, an NBA team has held an opponent to eight points or fewer in a quarter. The Heat have authored three of those defensive performances.
"We don't play (well) in the third quarter, but tonight we were awesome. That was the difference," point guard Goran Dragic said afterward.
Milwaukee (51-17) used plenty of offense in Tuesday night's 130-113 road win over the New Orleans Pelicans. With an explosive offensive output in sweeping the two-game season series, the Bucks maintained the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Barring a complete collapse, the club will own either the first or second spot in the conference's playoffs, perhaps in a matchup against Miami. Entering Thursday's play, Milwaukee held a three-game lead over the Toronto Raptors in the race for the top spot and the NBA's best record while the Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers each trailed by eight games.
Offensive showings like the win over New Orleans will likely keep the Central Division team at the head of the conference class.
As usual, superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo paced the way for Milwaukee, scoring 24 points, and it was a sizzling 45-point third quarter that helped the Bucks win for the third time in their last four games.
The game in Miami will end the team's three-game road swing -- they lost 121-114 in San Antonio on Sunday -- and coach Mike Budenholzer said the team needs to improve in the defensive end instead of relying on the offense so much.
"Third quarter, 45-41, is great offense, but not very good defense," Budenholzer said. "We were able to lock down to start the fourth quarter, and it's a road win. Those are always good in our league."
In the previous meeting in Miami on Dec. 22, the Bucks struggled from long range in a 94-87 loss, connecting on just 9 of 43 3-pointers. Antetokounmpo scored a season-low nine points on 3-of-12 shooting.
However, the Bucks rebounded with a 124-86 home win over the Heat on Jan. 15 as Antetokounmpo recorded a triple-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 14, 2019