The Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks meet Thursday as part of the NBA restart near Orlando in a game that's important for momentum as the teams head into the playoffs.
The Bucks, who have the league's best record at 54-14, have lost two of their three games in Orlando. But, counting the games played in March -- before the pandemic halted everything -- the Bucks have lost five of their past six games overall.
That's shocking considering how good the Bucks have been this season. In fact, prior to this stretch, the Bucks had not lost consecutive games all season.
On Tuesday, the Bucks suffered a stunning 119-116 loss to the undermanned Brooklyn Nets, who were 19-point underdogs. It was the NBA's largest upset, by point spread, in 27 years. In the past 30 years, teams favored by 19 or more were 49-2 straight up, per ESPN.
But, look deeper into the Nets loss, and that analysis reveals that Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo only played the first half as coach Mike Budenholzer decided to rest some of his starters. In fact, no Bucks starter played more than 20 minutes against Brooklyn.
That won't be the case on Thursday.
"When we play Miami, we'll be back to something more to what you would consider normal," Budenholzer said. "We want to continue to build toward the start of the playoffs."
The good news for the Bucks is that they got two of their injured players back on Tuesday as guards Eric Bledsoe and Pat Connaughton returned.
Bledsoe, who has started all 57 of his games played this season, is averaging 15.3 points and 5.4 assists. That's a slight uptick from his 10-year-career averages of 14.2 points and 4.8 assists.
Connaughton, a former second-round pick from Notre Dame, is averaging 5.1 points in a reserve role. He has missed six games this season.
The Bucks are also hoping to soon get guard Wesley Matthews (sore right calf) back from the injury list. In addition, Bucks center Brook Lopez, who has started 62 games this season and is averaging 11.2 points and 4.6 rebounds, is expected to return on Thursday.
Either way, the Bucks want to forget about Tuesday's humbling loss to Brooklyn.
"We have a great team," Bledsoe said. "But no one's perfect."
The Heat (43-25), who are 2-0 against Milwaukee this season, were without five-time All-Star wing Jimmy Butler (sore right ankle) on Tuesday, when they defeated the Boston Celtics, 112-106.
For Miami, Bam Adebayo had 21 points and a game-high 12 rebounds; Duncan Robinson had 21 points on 5-of-11 shooting from 3-point range; Goran Dragic scored 20 points; and center Kelly Olynyk replaced Butler in the starting lineup and produced 15 points, a game-high eight assists and six rebounds.
"A lot of guys stepped up," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We're going to need several guys playing well and doing it for 48 minutes."
Miami, just 6-6 without Butler this season, suffered another injury on Wednesday as Dragic limped off the court with five seconds left in the game. It appeared that Dragic twisted his left ankle, and subseqent X-rays were negative. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski said Dragic was diagnosed with a slight sprain. His status for Thursday is unknown.
--Field Level Media