[table id=26 /]
Enemy: The Heat Index
Brandon Jennings vs. Carlos Arroyo
Over his past five games, Jennings is averaging 25 points, 5.4 assists, 4 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game. Not too shabby a line. Best of all is his 43.7% from the field over that stretch. Over the course of his young career, shooting percentage has often been a thorn in Jennings’ side. One five game stretch doesn’t change that, and he’s still a touch under 40% shooting on the season (39.8%), but perhaps this is a sign that things are beginning to come around for Jennings. He played in four of those five games without Andrew Bogut and in Bogut’s return had one of the finer games of his entire NBA career in scoring 27 points, dishing six assists and grabbing seven rebounds. He even hit Bogut on the pick and roll a few times, something he’s been struggling with. Arroyo is really a point guard in name only at this point, as James handles the majority of the play-making duties for the Heat. He’s been a reliable shooter though, hitting on 13 of his 27 3-point attempts this season.
John Salmons vs. Dwyane Wade
With Charlie Bell enjoying the break from winter in California this season, who will step up and be Milwaukee’s “Wade Stopper”? It’ll have to be Salmons. While he’s struggling offensively to find his footing, he’s still an effective defender who knows where he’s supposed to be for the Bucks defensively. Look for him to be helping hard off of Wade on drives by James; Milwaukee will likely be more than willing to give up open looks outside to both Wade and James to try and stifle penetration. Regardless of what he does defensively, if Salmons has another off night offensively, it will be virtually impossible for the Bucks to pull this one out. He played well in Bogut’s return, possibly because of the pressure taken off of him, scoring 16 points on seven of 16 shooting. Milwaukee needs another high percentage outing from Salmons.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute vs. Lebron James
Mbah a Moute isn’t a cure all for James. It’s not as simple as tossing the long armed Prince on the King and then writing off James as a contributor for the evening. Mbah a Moute was on the court a few years back when James dropped 55 on the Bucks. He remembers what that was like. As it often did in Cleveland, the offense is running with James acting as the primary ball-handler frequently in Miami and Mbah a Moute will have his hands full trying to cut off James from penetrating. This is one of those nights in which the Bucks can live with getting virtually nothing out of Mbah a Moute as an offensive small forward, if only because his defensive contributions will be extremely important. He won’t stop James, b but the goal, as it always is with the NBA’s elite talents, will be to make him work for everything he’s getting.
Larry Sanders (Only if Gooden doesn’t play) vs. Chris Bosh
Recently Coach Skiles said about Sanders, that he’s been good in first halves and not-so-good in second halves, as is the case with a lot of young players. That may explain why Sanders sat for the entire fourth quarter against the Magic on Saturday. Down the stretch, Skiles is likely to ride players he feels he can trust more, like Ersan Ilyasova. So don’t expect much to change from Saturday to Monday with regards to Sanders minutes if Gooden is still inactive with plantar faciitis. He’ll start, but he probably won’t finish. Sanders certainly physically matches up better with Bosh, but Milwaukee will need its wits about them if they want to stay in this one and for every time he’s complemented Sanders development this season, Skiles has been quick to note that he has an eternity to go as far as understanding what’s going on around him goes. Bosh has long tormented the Bucks with his silky mid-range jumper and quick feet. Sanders has the length to bother that jumper if their isolated against each other and Ilyasova has the knack for charge taking that can bother Bosh. Both are considerably less talented than Miami’s last third of the big three though.
Andrew Bogut vs. Zyndrunas Ilgauskas
Bogut’s coming off a terrific 31 point, 18 rebound performance against the Magic’s backup center Marcin Gortat. Ilgauskas isn’t any more a deterrent at the hoop as Gortat was and Milwaukee will absolutely look to establish their post presence early again. Orlando did not double Bogut at all Saturday and felt the effects. I wouldn’t expect the Heat to make the same mistake with their long and incredibly fast perimeter defenders. Passing out of the double has been as much of an issue for Bogut this season as making open shots have been for his teammates. If Miami is doubling hard, both Bogut and his teammates will need to find answers they haven’t had all season. If Miami is giving Bogut time to make his moves, another high shooting percentage night from him will go a long way towards keeping the Bucks in this one.
Corey Maggette, Ersan Ilyasova, Keyon Dooling and Chris Douglas-Roberts
James Jones, Eddie House, Joel Anthony, Erick Dampier and Mario Chalmers
Despite finding a way to win otherwise, the Bucks shot just one of eight from 3-point range against the Magic and only Jennings attempted more than one three. Ilyasova is the most likely candidate to help out in that regard and bang home a couple of threes, but that sporadic Keyon Dooling good shooting effort would be incredibly helpful against the Heat. The Heat bench is made up mainly of player who shoot threes (Jones and House) and players who foul opposing centers and anyone else in the paint (Anthony and Dampier). The latter plays into the waiting hands of Maggette who could have a field day against the Heat reserve big men.
Prediction: Heat 92 – Bucks 86
The return of Bogut, recent consistency of Jennings and infusion of Douglas-Roberts gives the Bucks at least something resembling an NBA offense right now. And when Bogut’s in the lineup, Milwaukee’s defense is without question one of the finest units in the league. So there’s reason to believe that this won’t look like a 13-8 powerhouse Heat team rolling over another opponent far below .500. But there hasn’t been enough evidence yet that Milwaukee can outplay an elite opponent for 48 minutes. Maybe this will be the night, but I doubt it. A close game in which Milwaukee plays well offensively would be something to build on and the Bucks are still at the stage in which they are looking for framework at this point in the season.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan on Facebook (in the sidebar).