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The NBA Playoffs are here. The Miami Heat, holding the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the first time since the 2005 playoffs, host the Milwaukee Bucks at the AmericanAirlines Arena.
Miami went 3-1 against the Bucks in the regular season. The Bucks took Miami to overtime in their first meeting, but fell 113-106. Milwaukee got the better of the Heat in the second meeting though, winning 104-85 on the heels of a 35-14 fourth quarter.
But the Heat prevailed easily in each of the last two meetings, winning 107-94 on the road in March and then 94-83 at home last week.
Just about everyone is predicting Miami will easily handle the Bucks and cruise to the Eastern Conference semifinals. "It's a challenge. Look, these guys are really good. They're the world champions," Milwaukee coach Jim Boylan said Thursday.
"Dwyane Wade has won multiple NBA championships, LeBron is going to win multiple NBA championships before it's all over and let's not forget Chris Bosh and Ray Allen and all the other guys, too. Shane Battier. Great players. They present a large, large number of problems."
Indeed, a number of things will need to happen for Milwaukee to beat the Heat. Three-point specialists Mike Dunleavy and Ersan Ilyasova must get open looks, and teams have done that against the Heat through aggressive ball movement.
More importantly, Milwaukee will have to pound the offensive glass to give themselves second and third opportunities following misses. The Bucks were 11th in the league in offensive rebounding rate this season.
But Miami is clicking on all cylinders, and Milwaukee's best hope might actually be an inexplicable cold streak from LeBron James and the Heat's three-point specialists. But Miami is so deep that if Shane Battier or Ray Allen are ineffective, coach Erik Spoelstra can turn to Mike Miller or Rashard Lewis.
Nonetheless, if the Heat think they have an easy route to the second round, they are not letting on. "There's going to be trials and tribulations no matter what, no matter how good of a team you are," Dwyane Wade said Thursday.
"There's going to be a moment in the playoffs where our back is going to be against the wall. And I think everything we've done this season will prepare us for that moment. We have a goal, just like every other team that gets into the playoffs, to win a championship. But we understand the process that it takes."
Game 1 tips off at 7:00pm ET Sunday, with coverage on TNT and Sun Sports.