Miami Heat's James tries to pass around Milwaukee Bucks' Jennings in the first half of their NBA basketball game in Miami, Florida

PBT NBA Playoff Preview: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Miami Heat

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SEASON RECORDS

Miami: 66-16, best record in the league and number one seed in the East

Milwaukee: 38-44, eight seed in the East

SEASON SERIES

The Heat won three of the four matchups in the regular season, with one of the games in Miami going to overtime before the Heat secured one of those victories. But the close games were in November and December, and these two teams have been heading in opposite directions ever since.

KEY INJURIES

None.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Heat: offense 110.3 (Best in NBA), defense 100.5 (7th in NBA)
Bucks: offense 100.9 (21st in NBA), defense 102.3 (12th in NBA)

Differential: Heat +9.9 (2nd in NBA), Bucks -1.4 (18th in NBA)

THREE KEYS FOR MILWAUKEE:

Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, at the same time: On paper, Milwaukee should have one of the league’s deadliest backcourt tandems in Ellis and Jennings. The problem has been that when one has a big game, the other shrinks in the moment. That can’t happen against the Heat — if the Bucks are to win even a single game in this series, it’ll have to come on a night when both of their scorers light it up simultaneously.

Larry Sanders, under control: Sanders is a leading candidate for Most Improved and is on the list of guys in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation. Unfortunately, he’s been out of control with the officials all season long until just recently, finishing the season tied for second in the league for the most technical fouls with 14. Sanders needs to focus on the task at hand instead of the officiating this series, especially considering the fact that the Heat were the source of one of his bigger frustrations with the referees this season.

Limit transition opportunities defensively: The Heat are devastating in a lot of ways, but the last thing you want to see while trying to defend them is LeBron James or Dwyane Wade running free on the fast break, while outnumbered in transition. Milwaukee has to get back defensively and make Miami work for its offense in its half-court sets.

THREE KEYS FOR MIAMI:

Don’t overlook the opponent: The last time Miami faced Milwaukee, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh both sat out, yet the Heat cruised to a double-digit victory anyway. That was only a little more than a week ago, and with Miami at full strength to open the postseason, it might be tempting to view this series as already being won. As long as the Heat bring playoff energy to their performance, they should be more than fine in this series.

Contain either Ellis or Jennings: It doesn’t matter which of the Bucks’ guards the Heat decide to shut down; either is capable of going for 30 on any given night, Miami simply can’t have them both get going at the same time.

Do what you do best: The Heat play dominant, championship-level team defense when they want to, and when they do, it leads to fast break opportunities that are impossible for the defense to stop. Let the defense lead to offense as it has all season long, and Milwaukee, like most teams, will be in deep trouble for the majority of this series.

OUTLOOK

While the Heat have peaked in the second half of the season by entering the playoffs on a ridiculous run of winning 37 of their last 39 games, it’s been the opposite for the Bucks, who have struggled as of late and closed the season by winning just four times in their last 16 games. This series will be a bloodbath pure and simple, unless the Heat take their foot off the gas and approach one of the games in the series as if it were a meaningless regular season game in November. Not likely.

PREDICTION

If the league allowed a series to end in three games, this would be the perfect candidate. Since that’s not an option, Heat will sweep in four.

76ers’ No. 1 pick Ben Simmons out for season

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images
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76ers CEO Scott O’Neil guaranteed No. 1 pick Ben Simmons would play this season. Just about a week ago, Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said he expected Simmons to play this season.

But with rumor after rumor — the latest report saying his injured right foot hadn’t fully healed, even though he had participated in drills — indicating Simmons could miss the entire year, the 76ers accepted this undesirable fate.

Corey Seidman of CSN Philly:

Ben Simmons is officially out for the season, Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said Friday.

Simmons had a CT scan on his injured right foot Thursday in New York which showed that the foot is not yet fully healed.

He’ll have another scan in about a month, Colangelo said.

“I have always known that there was a desire to get him back on the court when healthy,” Colangelo said. “We’ve always anticipated there would be an opportunity for him to play, hopefully this season.

“But there was always the outside chance that it didn’t happen because there wasn’t complete and full healing. And we weren’t going to put Ben Simmons in a place where he was (susceptible) to a re-fracture.

“There are genetic things that change the healing patterns of people. So if everybody had done their research and saw that most Jones fractures took 3 to 4 months, great. But it’s not 3 to 4 months in every case, it’s 3 to 4 months in most cases.”

“He’s heartbroken. He wants to play. He wants to be out there. It’s eating him alive, I’m sure.”

Simmons follows Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid as high first-round picks to miss their entire first professional season with the 76ers. If it weren’t for Embiid’s emergence this season, this would be an even more bitter pill to swallow for Philadelphia fans fixated on immediate on-court gains.

But Embiid has provided more than enough reason for optimism, though he’s also hurt now (just not nearly as severely).

Long-term, the 76ers must figure out how Embiid and Simmons mesh and try to develop them together. We know Embiid works well with a stretch four, but what about a dynamic passing power forward like Simmons — or a tall point guard, if that’s what Simmons become? This injury delays answering those questions.

It also raises questions about Simmons — his ability to avoid and recover from injuries. Colangelo’s comments about Simmons’ genetics are particularly eyebrow-raising.

Likewise, there should be questions about the 76ers’ handling of their players’ health. How could Simmons return to on-court work before fully healed?

Philadelphia, at various points, has tried to accelerate its rise. But properly rebuilding takes time and care. At times like this, the 76ers must remember to trust The Process.

Paul Pierce shoots back at Warriors: ‘3-1 lead oops’

Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul Pierce (34) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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Draymond Green was harsh in trash-talking Paul Pierce last night.

Pierce and the Clippers couldn’t shut up Green on the court, as the Warriors won. But on Twitter?

Pierce responded there:

Pierce has repeatedly taken shots at the Warriors, particularly Kevin Durant. I’m not going to complain about trash-talking, but I can also see why Green would tire of this — and even try crushing Pierce last night.

But there’s apparently no way to silence Pierce.

Ty Lawson cleverly runs down clock in Kings’ win over Nuggets (video)

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The Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins for two key reasons:

  • They wanted to change their culture, and they thought jettisoning the combustible Cousins would do that.
  • They wanted to avoid conveying a top-10-protected first-round pick to the Bulls this year, which required getting a little worse in the short term.

But what if they did the former so well, it disrupts the latter?

Sacramento played with enthusiasm and savvy in a 116-100 win over the Nuggets last night. The most clever play came from Ty Lawson.

With the Kings trying to preserve a 109-94 lead with 2:38 left, Lawson took an inbound pass following a Denver basket and let the ball roll/lie on the court for 22 seconds before picking it up.

The game clock didn’t stop because the game wasn’t in the final two minutes. Neither the shot clock nor the eight-second count started because no team possessed the ball.

Denver had an extremely slim chance at erasing a 15-point with 2:38 left, but Lawson reduced those odds considerably. Eventually, Jameer Nelson — who failed for far too long to press Lawson out of this tactic — committed a frustration foul after his own basket.

Stephen Curry caps Warriors’ 50-point quarter with incredible buzzer-beating 3 (video)

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Why was Stephen Curry messing around with all that dribbling? Did he realize how little time was left?

Oh, yeah.

Curry and the Warriors knew exactly what they were doing in the third quarter against the Clippers last night.

Curry’s 3-pointer capped a 50-point quarter — just the third 50-point quarter in the last 25 years. The 2010-11 Pacers scored 54 in a quarter against the Nuggets, and the 2013-14 Lakers (!) scored 51 in a quarter against the Knickers (oh).

Golden State trailed by 12 at halftime, but flipped that into a 12-point lead entering the third quarter. The Warriors didn’t look back in a 123-113 win, but we’ll look back and enjoy all that third-quarter shot-making: