Milwaukee (45-25), which is currently on a 10-3 run, sits in third place in the Eastern Conference while scoring 120.2 points per game and grabbing 48.2 rebounds, tied with the Utah Jazz.
Miami (39-31) is in fifth place in the East, and it’s possible the Heat will play Milwaukee in a 3-6 first-round playoff matchup next week, especially if the Bucks prevail on Saturday.
It remains to be seen, however, if Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo will dial back his minutes on Saturday in anticipation of the start of the playoffs. Antetokounmpo played 35 minutes Thursday in a 142-133 victory over the Indiana Pacers, scoring 40 points with 15 rebounds and six assists.
Antetokounmpo, the NBA’s two-time MVP, admitted fatigue is setting in as Milwaukee gears up for its final two regular-season games of the season, including Sunday’s visit to the Chicago Bulls.
“I’m trying to save as much energy as I can,” he said after Thursday’s victory, during which he made 14 of 18 shots from the floor, including six dunks.
For the season, Antetokounmpo is averaging 28.4 points, 11.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks.
The Bucks have also gotten scoring help from Khris Middleton (20.4 points per game) and Jrue Holiday (17.7).
Milwaukee has split two matchups with the Heat this season, although both of those games were in Miami on consecutive nights, back when the season was young on Dec. 29-30.
However, in the second round of the 2020 playoffs, the Heat eliminated the Bucks in five games.
The Heat will enter Saturday’s game on a four-game win streak. Going back further, the Heat has won 11 of its past 14 games, a hot stretch that has allowed them to not only clinch a spot in the playoffs but also avoid the play-in round.
Heat star Jimmy Butler leads the team in scoring (21.5), assists (7.1) and steals (2.1), helping give the Heat an identity as a tough team that will play physical ball.
Last year the Heat made it all the way to the NBA Finals before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers. The Heat have struggled at times this season with two losing streaks of at least five games. But Miami seems to be peaking just as the playoffs are set to start, and the team showed its toughness in Thursday’s 106-94 win over NBA heavyweight Philadelphia.
There were at least two player skirmishes in that game, but the Heat stood tall and got the victory.
“No one intimidates us,” Butler said.
Butler scored 21 points on Thursday and beat the scouting report by shooting 4 of 4 from 3-point range. For the season, Butler is shooting just 24.5 percent from 3-point range, up from 21.4 percent prior to Thursday’s game.
The Bucks haven’t been held below 100 points since a 102-96 loss to the New York Knicks on March 27. In fact, the Bucks have had only four sub-100 games all season. Before Friday’s NBA action began, the Bucks ranked third in the league in field-goal percentage (48.8), tied for second in 3-point percentage (39.0) and third in scoring margin (plus 5.9 per game).
Miami is just 25th in the league in scoring. The Heat attack the rim more, however, which explains why they are 10th in the league in fouls drawn while Milwaukee is 24th.
–Field Level Media