After losing the first two head-to-head matchups with the Milwaukee Bucks, LeBron James and the Miami Heat pulled off a breezy 114-96 road win over the Bucks on Monday night.
Back when the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat met at the Bradley Center on Feb. 2, LeBron James outscored the entire Bucks roster in the first period -- which happened to be the most points scored by any player in any single quarter this season -- but Brandon Jennings and the Bucks got the last laugh in a 21-point comeback win. This time around, James saved his most explosive quarter for after halftime and propelled the Heat to a comfortable 114-96 win.
LBJ scored a game high 35 points on a stunning 16-21 shooting, as he pushed the ball effectively in transition, dominated in halfcourt offense with his mid-post game and put together a 16-point third quarter on 70 percent shooting that featured both methods of attack and put the game out of reach. James consistently dominated in the post, hitting a perfect 5-5 turnaround shots in the left short corner and scoring so well inside that he never had to attempt a shot beyond 18 feet on the night. He built a great first quarter on Feb. 2 with a deadly jumpshot that went sour in the second half, but this time King James focused on attacking the rim and getting more efficient looks to seal the win. LeBron has always loved playing at the Bradley Center, and Monday night was no exception.
A few stray Bucks fans might have quietly thought "bring on the Heat in the first round of the playoffs" after Milwaukee earned upset wins in the first two meetings this year, but this third and final head-to-head matchup served as a reminder of why the Heat are an NBA juggernaut. Dwyane Wade got off to a fast start, slicing through the defense and scoring 16 of his 22 points in the first half and looking like he might grab the headlines at his old Marquette stomping grounds, but James used the third quarter to punctuate his own stellar night and turn the final period into garbage time. With Wade and James combining for 57 points, Chris Bosh's quiet night -- 8 points and 7 rebounds -- didn't really matter. Besides, Bosh had his signature moment in the post-game interview. Things went well enough for the Heat that Eddie Curry made a three-minute cameo at the end of the game and tallied one rebound, one assist, two fouls and a turnover.
The Bucks managed to keep the game close in the first half by hitting six threes, but poor shooting overall prevented them from getting the lead under double digits at any point in the final 22 minutes of the game. Carlos Delfino hit 5-8 from beyond the arc and put in a team-high 24 points to establish one bright spot for Milwaukee. It marked the continuation of a streak hot shooting for the Argentinian swingman, who has now made 16 of his last 24 three-point attempts. No other starter for the Bucks shot over 50 percent from the floor, and the team only managed 39.3 percent accuracy for the game. Although Milwaukee matched Miami on points in the paint with 34, the mid-range onslaught by Wade and James helped the Heat convert 51.8 percent of their looks in the win.
Brandon Jennings opened the game by attacking in transition and generating 8 quick points, but he faded from there and finished with just 12 points and 4 assists. After playing a disturbingly passive game in a loss to the Phoenix Suns last Tuesday and then missing out on the 2012 NBA All-Star game, Jennings landed in the headlines over at ESPN for telling Chris Broussard he is considering leaving Milwaukee when he gets the chance. This was just another concerning effort in a string of underwhelming games from Milwaukee's young star over the last seven days. His 31-point, 8-assist and zero turnover performance that knocked off LeBron and company happened less than two weeks ago, but that swagger seems completely out of reach for Jennings at the moment.
Even Drew Gooden's suddenly sizable swag took the night off. He came into the game averaging 18.6 points on 55.1 percent True Shooting and 6.9 rebounds during the month of February, but couldn't keep up the production against Joel Anthony. Gooden has been feasting on 15-18 foot jumpers out of pick-and-pop during his surge, but Anthony bellied up and played him for that shot all night long. After falling for Gooden's first pump-fake and getting reminded by teammate Mario Chalmers to stay disciplined on defense, Anthony held Milwaukee's big man to just 2-14 from the field (34.2 percent True Shooting) for 12 points. Drew Gooden had more missed shots than LeBron and D-Wade combined. Miami is one of the few teams in the league without a true center anchored to the painted area, so perhaps Gooden can get back on track in the pick-and-pop against Chris Kaman and the Hornets on Wendesday.
The Heat (22-7) have now won 14 of their last 17 games -- with two of those losses and now one of those wins coming against the Bucks -- while the Bucks (12-16) are now stuck in their fourth losing streak of the season and currently rank as the No. 9 team in the Eastern Conference standings.
For anyone wondering exactly when the game turned into a garbage time laugher, LeBron was kind enough to punctuate that transition with a highlight dunk. Take a look: