MILWAUKEE — A majority of the announced 17,986 crowd at the BMO Harris Bradley Center Saturday night paid more attention to the University of Wisconsin’s Elite Eight game in Anaheim, Calif., than they did to the Bucks-Heat game taking place in front of them.
It’s probably a good thing, as even a short-handed Miami team had no trouble dispatching the NBA’s worst team, rolling to a 88-67 victory.
Center Chris Bosh paced the Heat with 14 points — 12 of them coming in the first half — while forward LeBron James went 5-for-10 from the field and was one of three Miami players — along with guard Toney Douglas and forward Rashard Lewis — to finish with 13 points.
Miami didn’t shoot well from the field (43.2 percent) or from distance (7-of-23) but made up for that by going 17-for-21 from the free-throw line and scoring 16 points off 17 Milwaukee turnovers.
The Heat also held the Bucks to 34 percent shooting, the fourth straight game that Miami’s opponent shot under 40 percent.
“We made a commitment to defense and you could tell from the beginning,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We weren’t trying to take the easy way out in this game. They have had to go through an incredible amount of adversity and we all know what their record is. You can come into this on a back-to-back with the wrong attitude but instead we came in with a workman-like attitude, especially on the defensive end.”
The victory, Miami’s second in as many nights, moved the Heat (52-21) within a game-and-a-half of Indiana for the top spot in the Eastern Conference and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Heat dropped the last meeting, 84-83, last Wednesday in Indiana but Miami faces the Pacers once more this season, April 11 in Miami.
“It sucked on Wednesday,” James said. “We wanted that one, we really wanted that game in Indy but it was a great trip overall, just how we bounced back with all the adversity as far as guys in and out of the lineup. It was a professional road trip, especially with these last two games.
“We needed them.”
Milwaukee took a 4-2 lead three minutes into the game but trailed the rest of the way, and had a season-low 29 points at the half.
They fell behind by as many as 21 in the second half and their 67 points were the second fewest scored by any team in the NBA this season and the fewest for a Bucks team since scoring 56 at Boston on March 13, 2011.
“They played great defense,” said Bucks forward John Henson. “We didn’t play (the way) we needed to play to beat them, which is swing the ball and pass. We can learn from a team like that.”
Henson notched a double-double with 12 points and 10 assists while point guard Ramon Sessions had 15 to lead the Bucks, who lost their ninth in a row and missed, by one point, setting a mark for fewest points scored by any NBA team this season (66).
Guard Brandon Knight struggled, going 6-for-18 from the field, but finished with 13 points. Forward Khris Middleton added 10.
The short-handed Heat had no problem with Milwaukee from the start, holding the Bucks to 31 percent shooting and forcing nine turnovers in the first half.
“We didn’t have that pep in our step,” Bucks coach Larry Drew said. “I didn’t feel it. We didn’t really run the ball. Against a good defensive team, you can’t rely on your half court (offense) on every possession. We didn’t get the basketball out or get up and down the floor to explore some easy opportunities.”
Milwaukee has lost nine in a row.
NOTES: Heat G Dwayne Wade missed the game with a sore hamstring. G Mario Chalmers (right quad), G Ray Allen (flu) and C Greg Oden (back) also were unavailable Saturday. … Bucks F Giannis Antetokounmpo was back on the floor Saturday despite suffering an ankle sprain Thursday against the Lakers. … Milwaukee did go without G O.J. Mayo, who sprained his right ankle Monday against the Clippers. … Ebony Nettles-Bey, a junior basketball player at Verona (Wis.) high school, fulfilled her wish of meeting Heat F LeBron James before the game. Nettles-Bey has been battling stage-four Rhabdomyosarcoma and her dream of meeting James gained national attention earlier this season.
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