Extra Pass: Bucks, Heat collide in East showdown

Published December 4, 2021, 4:00 PMMiguel Flores

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and the rest of the Milwaukee Bucks will take on the Miami Heat, who will be missing Jimmy Butler.

The Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat don't exactly have beef… yet. What they have between them is juicy and marbled, but it hasn't fully developed into the red-meat A5 Wagyu steak that other organizations have shared over the past few years.

On their way to the NBA Finals in 2020, the Heat toppled the Bucks in the Eastern Conference semis. Almost in furious retaliation, the Bucks refused to dodge the Heat in the 2021 playoffs, setting up the first-round matchup by crushing the Heat two weeks before the postseason then dominantly sweeping them in the playoffs.

This season could be the rubber match between both organizations. It was their loss to the Heat that forced the Bucks to reassess their roster by trading for Jrue Holiday then acquiring PJ Tucker at the 2021 trade deadline. Consequently, being swept by the Bucks forced the Heat to take a good hard look at themselves and trade for Kyle Lowry. Miami also snatched the 36-year-old Tucker away from Milwaukee with a generous offer.

They already faced off early this season with Miami stifling the short-handed Bucks in South Beach. When they meet tomorrow, the Bucks will have Jrue Holiday and Bobby Portis in the lineup, both of whom missed the previous game due to injuries. Miami, on the other hand, is the one banged up this time with Jimmy Butler (tailbone contusion) and Bam Adebayo (hand injury) out.

But we should still expect a lot of fight out of Heat Culture. One good thing that came from getting swept last season was it gave Tyler Herro time to work on his game. His sophomore season was atrocious, so Herro’s emergence into a fringe All-Star sixth man for the Heat this year was definitely a surprise. In 19 games this year, Herro has upped his scoring to 21.5 points on 45.5 percent shooting and 39.8 percent shooting from deep–both career-highs. He also brings other goodies with 5.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game.

Lowry has also recovered from his slow start and has upped his averages to 12.7 points and 7.6 assists. Without Adebayo and Butler, the Heat will rely a lot on Duncan Robinson, who has been misfiring this season, drilling just 31.8 percent of his 3-pointers, which is down from 40.8 percent last year.

It’s going to get frisky for Erik Spoelstra as he gets a chance to test his bench. Veteran Dewayne Dedmon is starting in place of Adebayo, but rookie Omar Yurtseven stepped up in their last game and was in Miami’s closing lineup against Indiana. We should also get heavy doses of the Heat’s young wings in Gabe Vincent, Max Strus, and Caleb Martin—all of whom have gotten their share of minutes in Butler’s absence.

While Miami has been cruising around the top four in the East with a 14-9 record, Milwaukee only recently got back into the playoff picture, thanks to an eight-game win streak that had propelled them to an identical 14-9 slate.

It was all a matter of getting healthy for the Bucks as each of their Big 3 in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Holiday, and Khris Middleton, as well as Portis and starting center Brook Lopez, missed time to start the season. Out of the group, Lopez is the only one who remains out due to a back procedure which will keep him out for at least another two months. The rest have been carrying the defending champions back to the top of the East.

Giannis, again, is having a low-key MVP season, averaging career-high assists (6.0) while still leading the Bucks in points (27.6), rebounds (11.6), and field goal percentage (53.8%). Holiday's and Middleton’s offense are slowly coming along while Punch Bob Portis is thriving as a starter.

Tomorrow’s game, which is going to be live on TV5 at 9:00 AM, should be an early litmus test for teams with a budding rivalry, both jockeying for playoff positions. 

Another game to watch out for is the Boston Celtics (12-11), who are continuing their Western Conference road trip when they visit the Portland Trail Blazers (11-12) at 11:00 AM, live on NBA TV Philippines (available on Smart’s GigaPlay app and Cignal TV).

Boston and Portland are both missing key players and can’t afford to continue hurtling down the standings. Even without Damian Lillard and Jaylen Brown, expect a heated matchup between the two opposite coast squads.