Torrid Bucks march in to face Heat

NBA Basketball
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Coming off their first losing month since April of 2019, the Miami Heat will play host to the NBA’s best team on Monday night.

The Heat will face the Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks (52-8) at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Miami went 6-7 in February, although they did win their final two games of the month.

“I’m encouraged by the two games,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They weren’t perfect games, but the way we’ve responded to adversity was a good sign.”

Miami is 25-4 at home this season. Milwaukee is 25-5 on the road.

The Heat’s leader this season has been five-time All-Star Jimmy Butler, who tops the team in points (20.5), assists (6.2) and steals (1.7).

Miami’s biggest surprise this season has been undrafted rookie guard Kendrick Nunn, who is averaging 15.8 points and 3.5 assists while shooting 52.0 percent on 2-pointers and 35.5 percent on 3-pointers.

“He’s fearless,” Spoelstra said of Nunn. “He has 3-point range, but he also can get to the rim. His scoring means a lot to us.”

The Heat, who entered Sunday ranked eighth in the league in assists, pride themselves on being an unselfish team. That explains how starting center Bam Adebayo and backup point guard Goran Dragic each are averaging 5.1 assists, second on the team behind Butler.

Miami is relatively healthy — guard Tyler Herro and center Myers Leonard are both out due to ankle injuries, but that has been the case since Feb. 5.

Otherwise, everyone in the rotation is expected to be available against a Bucks team that Miami beat 131-126 in overtime on Oct. 26.

That was the only previous meeting between the teams this season. Last season, Milwaukee took the series, 3-1.

Butler missed Miami’s win over Milwaukee in October. But Dragic had a team-high 25 points and eight assists, and Adebayo contributed 19 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists.

Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo had 29 points, 17 rebounds and nine assists in that game.

In the four games against Miami last season, Antetokounmpo averaged 20.3 points, 11.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists.

On Sunday, Antetokounmpo posted 41 points, 20 rebounds and six assists in just 35 minutes as Milwaukee defeated the host Charlotte Hornets 93-85. It was the fewest minutes required for a 40-20-5 game in NBA history.

It also was Milwaukee’s sixth straight win, and the Bucks have won 20 of 22.

Antetokounmpo is the front-runner to win the NBA’s MVP award for the second straight year.

“He’s constantly driven to improve,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer of his star player. “He’s obviously very skilled and talented, but he’s also not satisfied. We want that to be the identity of our organization.”

The Bucks are playing a bit short at the moment as Khris Middleton has missed the past two games due to a sore neck. Middleton, a 6-foot-7 starting wing, is averaging 21.1 points, which is on pace to be his career high. It also ranks second on the Bucks.

In addition, Kyle Korver – regarded as one of the best 3-point shooters in the league — has missed the past seven games due to a back injury. Korver is shooting 40.7 percent from 3-point territory this season.

–Field Level Media

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