LeBron James and the Miami Heat have sucked the drama out of the first two games in their opening-round playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks. Solid starts by the Bucks in Game 1 and Game 2 fizzled out by the final period and morphed into a pair of double-digit wins for Dwyane Wade and company. Now the Heat hold a commanding 2-0 series lead as playoff action shifts to the BMO Harris Bradley Center for the first time in three years. So, will anything be different in Game 3?
Any series between a top seed and a sub-.500 No. 8 seed is going to be a bit short on real in-game drama, but some interesting peripheral story lines have developed in this series. Brandon Jennings predicted the Bucks would win in six games, so if the Bucks lose on Thursday you can expect some related questions to pop up in post-game interviews. Maybe a new crazy quotable will be born.
There are several on-court story lines that have become interesting as well. J.J. Redick has fallen out of favor in Milwaukee's backcourt rotation, Luc Mbah a Moute has put in some good work while defending LeBron and Ersan Ilyasova has managed to hit his stride. Here are the three key issues for Game 3.
Will Jim Boylan Find More Minutes For J.J. Redick?
Through two playoff games, NBA trade deadline acquisition J.J. Redick has played a total of 24 minutes and scored eight points for the Bucks. Jim Boylan played the veteran shooting guard less than eight minutes in Game 2 and sat him for the entire second half. After the game, Boylan failed to shed any light on the situation, saying only: "We're trying to get him open, get him free. Get him in a rhythm. We've got to find a way to get him scoring for us."
Redick has struggled to get his shot off against a suffocating Heat defense, but he's a proven commodity and shouldn't be on the bench while reserve guards like Ish Smith roam the court in high-leverage minutes during the fourth quarter. Bucks blog Brew Hoop covered the strange situation from Game 2 in their recap podcast, and Tom Ziller of SB Nation bemoaned Boylan's decision making in a recent column:
After playing decent minutes for the Bucks in the regular season -- more than 28 per game off the bench -- Redick is a no-show through two games against the Heat. Like, literally a no-show: Boylan played him less than eight minutes on Tuesday. He's only the team's best shooter, you know.
Don't cry for J.J. -- his record is pretty strong, and he'll get paid this summer. Just feel sorry for the Bucks fans who
1. have to watch their team's coach seriously handicap a squad already obscenely overmatched, and
2. get to watch Tobias Harris do things in a different city for the foreseeable future.
Redick may not be enough to make a big difference for Milwaukee, but he is a consummate professional who deserves a bigger role in this series. His minute-load will be something to watch on Thursday night.
Can Luc Mbah a Moute Slow Down LeBron James?
In reality, LeBron James is unstoppable. In Game 1 he exploded for 27 points on 9-11 shooting, 10 rebounds and eight assists, so when Luc Mbah a Moute limited him to just 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists in Game 2, people came away genuinely impressed. That's how good the reigning MVP has been in the playoffs this year. It takes an entire team to slow down LBJ, but Mbah a Moute presents one of the best size-speed ratios in the NBA as a perimeter defender to matchup with LeBron.
Mbah a Moute's task will be to make James take a few more jumpers and keep him from getting into the paint with a full head of steam. That's been a problem for Milwaukee so far this series, as LeBron is shooting 60 percent from the field and 20 of his 25 field goal attempts have come inside the paint. Any gains Mbah a Moute can make against James can help give the Bucks a chance to steal a game.
Will Chris Bosh Exploit His Matchup Against Ersan Ilyasova?
In Game 1, Chris Bosh effectively pulled Larry Sanders away from the paint and helped open up the lane for teammates by stretching Sanders' assignment toward the perimeter. The Bucks made an adjustment in Game 2 by switching Ersan Ilyasova onto Bosh and leaving Sanders closer to the paint to cover Udonis Haslem. The shift paid off in an unexpected way.
Ilyasova actually out-dueled Bosh on Tuesday night, as the Heat big man was unable to exploit his individual matchup against Milwaukee's less athletic stretch-PF. Bosh should be able to take Ersan off the dribble and get some easy buckets, so it will be interesting to see how he attacks Ilyasova if the Bucks go with the same matchup scheme on Thursday night. If he doesn't dominate that matchup, the Bucks will be free to keep Larry Sanders on lesser Miami big men anchored closer to the paint, which should help Milwaukee maintain some semblance of respectable interior defense.