The Miami Heat are finally back home after a six-game road trip, and they have quite the challenge waiting for them. The Milwaukee Bucks have taken advantage of the Chicago Bulls being without Derrick Rose and are playing some great basketball, standing atop the Central Division at 6-3. Miami leads the Southeast at 8-3, so this game is anything but a guarantee for them.
Milwaukee has played well this year on the backs of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, who may be the deadliest backcourt tandem in the NBA. The two average a combined 38.1 points per game, which accounts for about 38 percent of the team's total scoring at 100.7 points per game (ranked fifth in the NBA).
However, though the Bucks have played well early in the season, coach Scott Skiles' usually tough defensive approach has gotten off to a bit of a flow start. Despite their record, Milwaukee ranks 17th in points allowed, with 97.9 per game. Against a fast-paced Miami team, this can and will be a problem.
Miami also has guard and leader Dwyane Wade coming back, so the adrenaline will surely be pumping from start to finish.
Time: Wednesday, November 21st, 7:30 p.m., EST
TV: Sun Sports, FSN Wisconsin
Records: Milwaukee Bucks (6-3) vs. Miami Heat (8-3)
Betting Lines: Not available as of Wednesday, November 21st, 8:25 a.m., EST
Injuries: Dwyane Wade (foot, probable)
Key Storyline: Dwyane Wade Returns Against Milwaukee to Get Back on Track, Lead Team
The story of tonight's game is the return of Dwyane Wade, who missed Miami's last two games dealing with a bruised foot. He is ready to play tonight, and his 16.9 points per game will be welcomed back with open arms.
His presence will give the Heat a distinct advantage against a young Bucks squad, against whom he can drive the lane, sink jumpers and also play some incredible defense. Most important of all, he is the unquestioned team leader, and his teammates will follow him on the path to victory.
It should also be noted that the Heat have more than just Wade's performance riding on this game, as they are 4-0 at home thus far this season. Contrastingly, the Bucks are 3-1 on the road, so this game definitely has the makings of a close finish.
This makes Wade's return all the more important, as Milwaukee's talented young frontcourt could easily take over on defense if Miami's shots aren't falling. If he and his teammates can help establish some momentum from the beginning, then the game will be Miami's to lose.
Key Matchup: Dwyane Wade vs. Monta Ellis
Monta Ellis is one of the game's most underrated shooting guards, and the Bucks finally had some stability after trading for him last season. At long last, Brandon Jennings had a go-to guy and didn't have to take on a majority of the scoring duties.
Ellis has averaged 21.4 points per game this season, and while he may only be shooting 42 percent from the field, he has become Milwaukee's main threat on offense. He's no slouch on defense either, coming away with 1.3 steals per game this season and 1.7 for his career.
Unfortunately for Ellis, he will be tasked with guarding Wade, who has shown that he can score points in multiple ways. Against Ellis, he's going to drive to the hoop to draw fouls. He may incorporate an ankle breaker or two, maybe even the occasional dunk, if his foot allows him.
The point is that in order to win this matchup, Ellis needs to take risks against Wade. Not only will he need to play tough defense, but he'll have to be willing to take more than just one or two trips to the free-throw line. He is averaging 19.6 field-goal attempts per game compared to just 4.8 attempts from the charity stripe, and that's not going to work against Miami.
Given how Wade will be playing some equally tough defense when Ellis has the ball, this battle is going to be one to watch throughout the game.
X-Factor: Dwyane Wade
Wade claims that he is ready to play, and Heat fans had better hope that he is right. Prior to missing his team's last two games, Wade attempted to play hurt in Miami's game against the Los Angeles Clippers on November 14.
Not only did Miami lose the game 107-100, but Wade shot 2-of-10 from the field and finished with just six points. He later said that he regretted trying to play through the pain.
Wade now has to enter this game cautiously, but not to the point where he's playing soft. He'll probably let his teammate LeBron James handle some of the duties early on, just to let his foot adjust back to game speed. Once he's ready, he'll start demanding the ball.
If Wade's shots are falling and he's smart about when to take them, then the Heat's odds of winning will skyrocket. If he and James are performing well, then there is really no way for Wade and Miami to be stopped.
Picking the winner in a game between two division leaders is never easy, but it's clear who has the upper hand in this game. As good as Milwaukee has looked to start the season, they are still a very young team and not deep nor experienced enough to defeat Miami.
It should also be noted that two of the Bucks' three losses came against talented, playoff-caliber teams in the Boston Celtics and Memphis Grizzlies. Granted, Miami lost to Memphis last season, but they defeated Boston in the Conference finals. It will be a hard-fought battle against Milwaukee, but they will come out winners by game's end.
Who will win?
Look for Wade and James to just take over on offense and finish in double figures. Ray Allen and Mike Dunleavy will provide lots of drama from behind the three-point line. In the middle, look for Chris Bosh to take advantage of the slow-footed Samuel Dalembert.
This game won't necessarily be high-scoring, but it will be close enough that at the end, both teams will know that they've been in a tough battle.
Miami Heat 98, Milwaukee Bucks 92