Dwyane Wade ruled the Bradley Center floor during his Marquette days. Will he do so again?
The Bucks' 30th-ranked offense can't find the basket, but with Andrew Bogut back on the floor, the team's stifling defense will be as tough as ever. Scott Skiles' system provides evidence that you don't need a full lineup of defensive stoppers to get exceptional results (and Bogut has emerged as an elite defender only during the past two seasons). Few teams execute their half-court defensive schemes as precisely as Milwaukee. The Bucks' overriding goal on each half-court possession is to wall off the paint and they're usually successful -- they're the only team in the league allowing fewer than 30 shot attempts per game within 10 feet of the rim. They anticipate almost every weak side action and step-up screen. Meanwhile, their defensive rotations are airtight behind their hard-showing pick-and-roll coverage. On Saturday night against Atlanta, the ball stagnated for Heat. They can't afford a repeat performance, or the Bucks will put a stranglehold on the offense. If the Heat expect to generate anything more than open looks on the weak side for Carlos Arroyo or Mario Chalmers, they're going to have to work for it.
Man in the Middle
Not unlike Orlando with Dwight Howard, Milwaukee has sculpted its stingy defense around Bogut. His presence, physicality and sound judgment allow the Bucks' perimeter defenders to be especially feisty. Luc Mbah a Moute and John Salmons can pressure LeBron James and Dwyane Wade knowing full well that Bogut is patrolling the paint directly behind them, ready and willing to compensate for any mistakes or blow-bys. Against a team like Miami that doesn't feature a scoring center, Bogut can be even more daring. Expect the Heat to try and lure him away from the basket by situating Zydrunas Ilgauskas at 17 feet poised for a face-up jumper -- and expect Skiles to have his defensive rotation ready to counter that strategy.
Over the past week, head coach Erik Spoelstra has settled on a rotation that keeps one of the Heat's true point guards, Arroyo and Chalmers, on the floor for virtually the entire game. This absolves LeBron James of point guard duties, but it also demands that Arroyo and Chalmers check Brandon Jennings at the top of the floor. Unlike Milwaukee, Miami doesn't have a back line presence that can erase the mistakes of its perimeter defenders. Jennings has shown vast improvement this season finishing at the basket and drawing contact when he doesn't. When he's working at maximum efficiency off the dribble and/or in the pick-and-roll with Bogut, he's the one spark that can ignite the Bucks' offense. The Heat's help defenders must be prepared to slide over to keep Jennings away from the hoop. The men on the spot for Miami are LeBron James, whose assignment will be Mbah a Moute, and Chris Bosh, who will draw Ersan Ilyasova.
Right now, the Bucks can't find the bottom of the net with a miner's hat, but put them on the line and they have a puncher's chance. They rank fifth in the league in free throw rate (percentages of possessions that finish at the stripe), and their perimeter corps feature a number of guys who understand how to bowl their way to the rim and draw contact. Among swingmen who average 20 minutes per game, the Bucks field No. 1 (Corey Maggette), No. 8 (Chris Douglas-Roberts) and No. 9 (Mbah a Moute) in free throw rate. Against Orlando on Saturday night, the Bucks got 43 free throw attempts (granted, a good number of them the result of intentional fouls in the closing minutes of the game). The Heat have done an average job of playing a physical brand of D without being overly foul-prone. If they can resist the temptation on Monday night, they should be able to beat the only team in the league with a true shooting percentage below 50 percent.
So long as they keep the ball moving or find a favorable mismatch, Miami will be able to pick apart most teams in the half court -- but not the Bucks. How do you neutralize a team that plays strong positional defense? Don't allow them to set up. Milwaukee's creaky offense will feed Miami with plenty of missed shots, and the Heat should leak out when they can to have the opportunity. But Miami must also be mindful of the glass, because the Bucks are one of the league's stronger rebounding teams.