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.

Philadelphia 76ers fans are celebrating wins by raising pet cats above their head

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Nothing is crazy in the world of sports, especially not traditions where you literally raise your pet cat above your head every time the Philadelphia 76ers win a basketball game. Nope. Not crazy. It’s simply part of #RaiseTheCat, a social media trend that has taken over Sixers Twitter.

Yup. Seriously.

It all started when 76ers rookie Ben Simmons shared pictures of his two Savannah cats on Instagram. They are gorgeous, expensive hybrid animals, and you know the Internet loves them a good ol’ cat.

🐯for those asking they are F2 Savannahs

A photo posted by Ben Simmons (@bensimmons) on

Philadelphia has gone 8-2 over their last 10 games, and one Sixers fan decided to start a social media wave of his own after each W way back near the start of the season.

With the Sixers winning more games, there’s been more photos of cats to go around.

The trend has finally caught on, with other Sixers fans using the hashtag to proclaim their jubilee after the team wins.

And of course, Simmons himself had to finally join in:

I love Basketball Twitter.

(h/t SB Nation)

LeBron James considering return to US Olympic team under Gregg Popovich

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 12:  LeBron James #6 of the United States celebrates after the Men's Basketball gold medal game between the United States and Spain on Day 16 of the London 2012 Olympics Games at North Greenwich Arena on August 12, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) LeBron James says Gregg Popovich taking over as coach of the U.S. Olympic team will be a factor in whether he plays in the 2020 Tokyo Games.

James has won two Olympic gold medals, but he skipped last summer’s Rio de Janeiro Games to get rest after leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA championship. On Saturday, James said Popovich “factors a lot” in his plans going forward with the U.S. team.

James was asked about Popovich, San Antonio’s longtime coach, before the Cavs hosted the Spurs.

James considers “Pop” the greatest coach in NBA history and called him a “great mastermind of the game of basketball.”

Popovich is replacing Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who led the U.S. team to three consecutive gold medals.

Stan Van Gundy to Reggie Jackson: “We’re not trading you for Ricky Rubio”

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It was rumored this week that the Detroit Pistons and Minnesota Timberwolves were mulling a trade that would send Ricky Rubio to Michigan and Reggie Jackson to Minnesota. Now, Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy says that isn’t happening.

Nor was it a real offer that was even on the table.

In a video posted to the Detroit Free Press, Van Gundy went off on one of his classic fireside chats — the kind that involves profanity — on how he sees the NBA as it works.

Warning: NSFW language ahead.

While the whole thing is worth watching for the Van Gundyness of it all, here’s the meat you’re looking for:

All these rumors and stuff look I mean know it’s fun for everybody and you’ve got some source somewhere and it’s also all bullshit. Im not denying that discussion — they take place all the time – -that’s a lot different than considerations. Somebody says ‘Hey would you consider Ricky Rubio for Reggie Jackson that discussion might have taken pace. And clearly we didn’t make that move. We wanted to see if they’d go [Michael] Gbinije for LeBron.

Van Gundy said he didn’t know if the specific Jackson-for-Rubio discussion even happened, saying that Pistons president Jeff Bower only brings him trades they are actively considering.

Meanwhile, Van Gundy confirmed that he did text Jackson after his agent made contact with Bower.

“This is the crazy season. We’re not trading you for Ricky Rubio,” said Van Gundy about his text to Jackson.

Report: After fining Wizards, league issues memo warning teams on bench etiquette

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 12:  Courtney Lee #5 of the New York Knicks takes a three point shot in the first quarter against the Chicago Bulls at Madison Square Garden on January 12, 2017 in New York City. 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  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The NBA league office fined Washington Wizards assistant coach Sidney Lowe $5,000 — and the team an additional $15,000 — for his role in distracting a New York Knicks shooter during a game this last week.

Now, the league has issued a warning to teams: make sure you’re practicing good bench etiquette, or we’re coming for your wallets.

According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the NBA sent a memo to all 30 teams on Saturday reminding them to remain on their own bench in accordance with league rules. Obviously that means no stepping onto active basketball courts:

So what are coaches needing to confine themselves to?

Official NBA rules state simply:

The coach’s position may be on or off the bench from the substitution box line (closest to the coach’s bench) to the baseline. A coach is not permitted to cross the midcourt line and violators will be assessed an unsportsmanlike technical foul immediately. All assistants and trainers must remain on the bench. Coaches and trainers are not permitted to go to the scorer’s table, for any reason, except during a dead ball.

Like we see with preseason points of emphasis, it’s possible we see additional fines in the weeks to come. Several coaches enjoy toeing the line (literally) to see what they can get away with and how far out on the court they can stand. Tom Thibodeau immediately springs to mind.

Or, it could go the other direction. Perhaps we see more coaches sitting back, respecting their distance?

Hopefully we just don’t see any more of them trying to close out on opposing shooters.