Given recent events, the Milwaukee Bucks will want to limit the Miami Heat’s trips to the foul line.
The Heat set an NBA record on Tuesday by going 40-for-40 on free throws in a 112-111 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“That’s the team we can all relate to,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of his squad, which has struggled for large stretches of this season. “That’s the team I like.”
On Thursday, the Heat will host the Bucks, who will be without star Giannis Antetokounmpo. The two-time NBA MVP was ruled out for the game as he deals with left knee soreness.
Miami is 10-11 on the road this season, and not much better at home (12-9).
It remains to be seen how healthy the Heat will be on Thursday. On Tuesday, Miami was missing four starters, including two — Bam Adebayo (wrist) and Tyler Herro (foot) — who have combined to average 42.6 points per game. Starting point guard Kyle Lowry, who leads the team with 5.6 assists per game, was out due to knee discomfort.
Spoelstra is hoping that all three players can return on Thursday. On Tuesday, though, Miami used just seven players after backup center Dewayne Dedmon’s temper tantrum resulted in an ejection.
Jimmy Butler, Miami’s ever-reliable star, rode to the rescue with a game-high 35 points, making all 23 of his free throws.
For the season, Butler leads Miami in scoring (22.1) and steals (2.2) while ranking second in assists (5.5) and rebounds (6.4).
Meanwhile, the Bucks started this season 9-0 but have been just about average over the past two months, going 18-14.
Part of the problem is Khris Middleton has missed 13 straight games due to a knee injury. Middleton has been ruled out for Thursday’s game and there is no timetable for his return, although he participated in 5-on-5 drills on Tuesday.
A three-time All-Star, Middleton sat out last year’s playoff series against the Boston Celtics, and the Bucks got swept.
“We need this guy,” Antetokounmpo said of Middleton, who averaged over 20 points in each of the past three years.
Of course, what the Bucks need most of all is continued excellence from Antetokounmpo, who was voted the NBA’s MVP in 2019 and 2020. He was also the NBA Finals MVP in 2021.
Antetokounmpo ranks third in the league in scoring (31.0) and rebounds (11.9). He also sits second on the Bucks in assists (5.3), trailing only Jrue Holiday (7.1). Holiday is a two-time first-team All-NBA defender.
The Bucks are on a two-game winning streak, beating the New York Knicks, 111-107, on Monday and defeating the Atlanta Hawks, 114-105, on Wednesday.
Against New York, the Bucks rallied after trailing by 17 points with five minutes left in the third quarter.
Milwaukee’s Joe Ingles scored a season-high 17 points as the Bucks got hot against the Knicks.
“I think in the long run we’re going to make a lot of those (3-point) shots,” said Ingles, who also was ruled out for Thursday’s game due to left knee, injury management.
Against the Hawks, Antetokounmpo was held to a season-low seven points on 3-for-10 shooting. He did, however, have game highs in rebounds (18) and assists (10).
Holiday (27 points) and Brook Lopez (20 points, 12 rebounds) took up Milwaukee’s scoring slack.
One negative for the Bucks on Wednesday was the ankle injury suffered by starting guard Grayson Allen, who played 13 minutes and missed the entire second half. He has been ruled out for Thursday’s game.
–Field Level Media