NBA: Bucks to face Heat carrying plenty of motivation

Field Level Media, Reuters

Posted at May 22 2021 11:13 AM

NBA: Bucks to face Heat carrying plenty of motivation 1
Milwaukee Bucks center Bobby Portis (9) and Miami Heat forward Nemanja Bjelica (70) battle for possession of the ball in the fourth quarter at Fiserv Forum. Final Milwaukee Bucks 122, Miami Heat 108. Michael McLoone, USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

The Milwaukee Bucks wanted a chance for payback against the Miami Heat, who ousted them from the second round of the NBA playoffs last year.

Consider revenge a major motivator for the Bucks starting Saturday when they play host the Heat in Game 1 of this year's first-round playoff series at Milwaukee.

The Heat have won the only two playoff meetings between the franchises, including their 4-1 series victory in the Orlando bubble in 2020. Miami swept Milwaukee in the 2013 first round on their way to their second consecutive NBA title when they were led by the Big 3 of Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

Coming off their sixth-ever NBA Finals appearance last year, the Heat struggled to an 11-17 start this season before finding their rhythm once Jimmy Butler rounded into form following his return from COVID-19 protocols. Miami went 7-13 this season when Butler did not play.

Miami enters the playoffs having won 12 of their final 16 regular season games.

Butler's 21.5 points, 7.1 assists, 6.9 rebounds and league-high 2.1 steals per game in 52 contests all were up from his output in his first season with the Heat. He is also shooting better at 49.7 percent after shooting 45.5 percent last season.

"Everyone is gaining more and more confidence, knowing what we're going to be doing possession to possession, and how together we are more than ever," said Butler, who sat out all three games this season against Milwaukee. 

"That's what it's going to take. Everyone is in here early, studying every part of the Bucks. ... I like our chances anywhere. First to 16 wins. I'm ready to go."

The Bucks won eight of nine games before losing their regular-season finale at Chicago on Sunday in a game in which they rested their entire starting lineup.

The Bucks' lack of long-distance accuracy factored heavily in last season's defeat as they shot just 32.7 percent from 3-point range in the series.

With the additions of Jrue Holiday, Bobby Portis, Bryn Forbes, Jeff Teague and moving Donte DiVincenzo into their starting lineup, the Bucks finished tied for fourth in the NBA in 3-point shooting at 38.9 percent.

"I think we just have firepower from everywhere," Holiday said. 

"Offensively, you can get it one through five. From shooting to penetrating in the paint to ball movement. To Brook (Lopez), if you want him to have it around the paint, shoot 3s or Brook's a load down low. Off the bench. We have Bryn, we have Pat (Connaughton), we have Bobby, all scorers who can really give it to you any way you want it."

The trade for Holiday (17.7 points, 6.1 assists per game) opened Milwaukee's offense even more and took some pressure off two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo from opposing defenses. 

The Heat held the two-time MVP to 21.8 points per game in their series last year after he averaged 29.5 during the regular season.

"I'm in a good place mentally and physically," Antetokounmpo said. "The pressure is earned, and I love it."

The Heat expect to have everyone available Saturday except Victor Oladipo, who is out after undergoing surgery on his right quadriceps.

"We feel we've been playing with a high level of intensity and emotion the last several weeks, and that still isn't the level of what you can expect in the playoffs," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. 

"We have enough veteran guys to understand that."