Dec 30, 2012, 12:44 AM EDT
Dwyane Wade returned, but Miami’s road woes traveled right along with him to Milwaukee.
Believe it or not, Miami appeared to be in firm control with a little over two minutes left in the third quarter. LeBron James had just hit an impossible fading baseline bank shot from a tough angle, and then had followed it with another tough pull-up bank shot. Miami’s lead was at nine, the Bucks had fallen in love with the long two, and it just felt like one of those classic Heat victories where they turn it on late and blow out their opponent.
Instead, the exact opposite happened. The Bucks went on an improbable 33-5 run in 10 minutes of game time, getting huge offensive contributions from an unlikely source an Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (19 points) and undervalued shooter in Mike Dunleavy (18 points). After defending against the 3 pretty well all game, the Heat let up four 3-pointers during the big run, and each shot seemed to deflate the Heat balloon a little further.
On the other side of the ball, LeBron James and company couldn’t seem to avoid the shotblocking of Larry Sanders and Mbah a Moute. More often than not, Miami’s possessions resulted in turnovers or turned away layups at the rim, and that was the spark the previously dormant Bucks offense needed to get rolling.
It’s not often you see a team of Miami’s caliber completely collapse in the fourth quarter, but Milwaukee’s defense rendered every player not named Wade or James completely irrelevant on the night. Chris Bosh was flustered by the length and shot-altering abilities of Milwaukee’s long frontline, and took 14 shots only to score 12 points. Mario Chalmers was a complete non-factor offensively, and his attempt to take Jennings’ head off on a fast break was probably the best defense he displayed all night. Jennings poured in 25 points on his usual diet of tough pull-up jumpers and slicing drives to the rack.
Somehow, Miami’s bench was even more ineffective than Bosh and Chalmers, mustering up only 15 combined points, two assists, and no steals — numbers Bucks’ bench ace Mike Dunleavy bested all on his own.
Miami is obviously not your average team, but they’ve been exactly that on the road. Now just 6-6 away from the AmericanAirlines Arena, you have to wonder where the Heat would be sitting if they had, say, the early season schedule the Denver Nuggets had.
It’s probably not time to sound the alarm just yet, though. Beating a tough Milwaukee team on the road on the second night of a back-to-back isn’t the easiest of tasks, but losing in this fashion does show a little bit more vulnerability than we were accustomed to seeing last season. Fact is, Miami is a middle-of-the-road defensive team right now (14th in efficiency) that struggles with deep squads who can shoot from the perimeter. And guess what? The two teams directly below them in the Eastern Conference standings fit that bill pretty darn well.
Miami is obviously the heavy favorite going forward even with some of their defensive issues, but the journey back to the NBA Finals might not be the cakewalk most thought it would be after all.