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NBA: Miami Heat @ Milwaukee Bucks preview

The Milwaukee Bucks begin their chase of top seed in the Eastern Conference against last season’s conference finalists the Miami Heat on Friday evening.

The Bucks went into the All-Star break just 0.5 games behind the Celtics, who hold the best record across the NBA and they are looking to chase down Boston with just 24 games left to play this term.

However, the 2021 champions could be forced to restart their season without star Giannis Antetokounmpo, while additions for the Heat make them tricky opponents.

WhatMiami Heat @ Milwaukee Bucks
WhereFiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
When7:40pm ET, Friday 24th February 2023
How to watchBally Sports Wisconsin, fuboTV
OddsMIA Heat +105, MIL Bucks -125

Giannis set to miss out

Giannis went off injured in the Bucks’ final game before the All-Star break, which kept him on the sidelines through most of the weekend in Utah. His wrist injury is only believed to be a sprain, but the Bucks likely won’t rush the two-time MVP back.

That’s a lucky break for the Heat, who played a double-header against the Bucks earlier this season when Giannis was also sitting out through injury. The Heat took both of those games, but they lost out earlier this month when Giannis scored a 35-point triple-double to lead the Bucks to victory.

Khris Middleton also made a big impact on that game with 24 points having missed the double-header in Miami. Middleton missed two of the Bucks’ last three games, but he featured in practice ahead of this game and he’s set to make a return.

Heat add frontcourt depth

With Middleton joining All-Star Jrue Holiday the Bucks could be a tough side to see off at home, but the Heat come into this clash looking stronger than in any of their recent clashes with the Bucks.

Kyle Lowry remains a doubt for Miami, but the Heat have moved for both Kevin Love and Cody Zeller in the buyout market after standing pat at the trade deadline.

Adding that extra frontcourt depth should help the Heat’s only 2023 All-Star, Bam Adebayo, while they can help cover for Jimmy Butler, who has been in and out of the side.

The Heat had been ultra-reliant on Adebayo’s size to make them one of the toughest defenses in the NBA. The Heat rank fifth in defensive rating across the league and that’s largely down to Bam, who remains a +650 chance to be named Defensive Player of the Year.

Friday night’s contest is set to be a duel between two of the three leading contenders for that award, as the Bucks’ Brook Lopez is the +400 second favourite.

While Bam remains a defensive menace, he is proving to be a bigger factor offensively this season. He’s averaging a career-high 21.6 points per game, while he posted 24 points in his final game before the break.

With the Heat adding some extra size defensively, that could free up Bam to build on some good numbers this season. He’s priced at -115 to score at least 22 points in this game and that looks like a good bet as he aims to get one over a DPOY rival.

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Bucks remain a threat without Giannis

With Giannis listed as a doubt for Friday’s game, the hosts only have a slight lead in the betting. They are -125 on the Money Line and they’ve been priced up as favourites by only two points on the spread.

That’s likely to move if Giannis does make a speedy return, but even without him the Bucks look much stronger than the side which lost out in Miami earlier this year.

The Heat come into this clash with issues on their travels, having lost 17 of their 30 away trips this season. They’ve also been beaten in six of their last 10 on the road, while they have a 15-17 losing record against sides in the east.

The Bucks have a 23-13 record against conference rivals and they have won 24 of 29 home matchups so far this season. Not only that, but they went into the break in stellar form with 12 straight victories, so it’s hard to oppose them in this one.

The Heat have had inconsistencies all season long and they do seem to miss Kyle Lowry’s guard play even with his underwhelming box scores.

While the Heat do boast a good defense they’re up against a great one, with the Bucks holding the second-best defensive record in the league, just 0.1 of a point per 100 possessions shy of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Bucks should prove too strong defensively and with Middleton back they have the scoring to cover a -2 start, so take them at -110 on the spread.

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