Feb 1, 2012; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova (7) shoots between Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh (1) and guard Dwyane Wade (3) during the fourth quarter at the Bradley Center. The Bucks defeated the Heat 105-97. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

Game 28 Preview: Miami Heat (21-7) at Milwaukee Bucks (12-15)

When these two teams last walked off the hardwood, the Milwaukee Bucks owned much better prospects for their future.

Back on February 1, the Bucks had won six of their last eight games, occupied a spot in the playoff standings, and were riding a huge emotional boost after taking down the Heat at home — their second win in two tries against Miami this season.

The Bucks’ fortunes have reversed course since then.

They have lost four of six games, fallen to the ninth spot in the Eastern Conference, and seen their confidence plummet.  Their only two wins came against bottom-feeding teams each of whom were missing their best players.  Their best healthy player, Brandon Jennings, has fallen apart on the court and publicly looked forward to a post-Milwaukee future.  In short, the Bucks’ affairs are a mess

Meanwhile, as winners of five of six games, the Heat train continues to roll onward.

All of which makes tonight’s game that much more important.  The Bucks’ psyche needs a boost.  After 27 games, they don’t have much to hang their collective hats on.  Bogut got hurt.  Their previously solid home record has eroded.  Jennings’ improvements have done a U-turn.

What is left?  A 2-0 record against an elite conference foe.  Push it to 3-0 and there is still a glimmer of positive outcomes.  Fall tonight and the sole remaining season highlight is tainted.

Offensive Efficiency:
Miami: 108.5 (2nd)
Milwaukee: 102.9 (16th)

Defensive Efficiency:
Miami: 100.1 (10th)
Milwaukee: 104.0 (19th)

Pace:
Miami: 93.2 (6th)
Milwaukee: 92.4 (11th)

Projected Lineups:
Miami:  Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Joel Anthony
Milwaukee: Brandon Jennings, Shaun Livingston, Carlos Delfino, Luc Mbah a Moute, Drew Gooden

Box Score Advantage: February Swoon

When the teams met on February 1, Brandon Jennings dealt out the fourth-quarter dagger, scoring 14 of his team-high 31 points.

That game was also the turnaround point in Jennings’ season.

Look at the month-by-month splits for Jennings:

December: 22.7 ppg, 46% FG, 85% FT
January:    19.5 ppg, 44% FG, 81% FT
February:   14.9 ppg, 33% FG, 71% FT

Matchup to watch: Carlos Delfino vs. LeBron James

Carlos is an underrated defender, but any NBA wing would have their hands full trying to matchup with James, who is the leading candidate to win the MVP award this season.  LeBron fried the Bucks for 24 first-quarter points in the last game, but only shot 6/15 FG for the rest of the game.  The Bucks need Delfino to get LeBron out of rhythm early.

Bottom Line:  Uphill

Now that the Bucks have the full attention of the Heat, this game will be extremely difficult to win.

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Tags: Brandon Jennings Lebron James Miami Heat Milwaukee Bucks

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