Erik Spoelstra and the Heat moved closer to securing home-court advantage throughout the playoffs Tuesday night. The coach is seen above in a game against Phoenix earlier this season.
Dwyane Wade was hurt, Chris Bosh was sick, the Miami Heat missed 15 consecutive 3-point attempts and allowed the Milwaukee Bucks to score 22 points off turnovers.
And the Heat won handily anyway.
So if this was a potential first-round Eastern Conference playoff preview, the Bucks probably didn't enjoy much of what they saw on Tuesday night. LeBron James scored 28 points in 30 minutes, Udonis Haslem had his first double-double of the season and the Heat moved a step closer to wrapping up home-court advantage throughout the NBA playoffs by topping the Bucks 94-83.
"The train keeps on moving," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
The Heat tied a franchise single-season record by winning for the 61st time, getting there with five games remaining. Miami needs only one more win or one San Antonio loss to clinch the top overall seed for the entirety of the playoffs. The defending champions (61-16) clinched the top seed in the East long ago, and will more than likely see the Bucks (37-40) when the postseason starts in about a week and a half.
"We've done so many great things this year by just playing the game at a high level, playing for one another," James said. "Along the way, when those accolades come as far as team wins, the streak that we had, we really enjoy it."
Norris Cole and Ray Allen each scored 11 for the Heat, and Haslem finished with 10 points and 15 rebounds. Wade missed his fifth straight game and seventh in the past nine while dealing with ankle and knee issues, and Bosh sat out his second straight contest, though this time it was flu-like symptoms that left him sidelined, not the sore knee that kept him from participating in Saturday's game against Philadelphia.
Bosh is not expected to accompany Miami for its trip to play in Washington on Wednesday. Wade is traveling with the club, and will be evaluated on Wednesday before the Heat make any determinations on the rotation for the matchup against the Wizards. It's unknown if anyone else will sit to rest any nagging issues, including James, who said he's still working his way back to full strength.
Brandon Jennings scored 30 points for the Bucks, who said they didn't necessarily treat Tuesday as a dress rehearsal for a possible Game 1 in Miami.
"Whenever we play Miami we have two, three guys guarding (James)," Bucks coach Jim Boylan said. "We didn't do anything unusual tonight. I wasn't looking for anything. We just had a normal kind of game — nothing out of the ordinary for us."
James' highlight of the night came early. Off a turnover, he took a pass from Mario Chalmers, thought about getting the ball to Mike Miller but Monta Eliis got into the passing lane. So James wound up throwing a pass off the backboard to himself — finishing the play with a dunk that had a half-dozen Heat players leap off the bench in unison and crane their necks toward the scoreboard to see the replay.
James finished 11 for 16 from the floor, with seven rebounds and seven assists.
"Monta really outsmarted me so I had to outsmart him too," James said. "I was going to Mike and he kind of played the passing lane, so I had to make an in-flight adjustment."
Miami outrebounded Milwaukee 49-37, and held the Bucks to 37 points after halftime. The Heat lead was only 47-46 at the break, and Jennings opened the second half with a basket to give Milwaukee a one-point lead.
It was also the Bucks' last lead.
"They didn't play very well and they still won by a lot," Milwaukee's Mike Dunleavy said. "So it's not the best result for the Bucks."
The rest of the third quarter was a 24-11 Miami burst, one where they even made a 3-pointer after going more than two full quarters without connecting from beyond the arc. Miller made one on the team's third attempt of the night, about 2 minutes after tipoff, and the Heat — the league's second-best 3-point shooting team this season entering the game — went on to miss their next 15 tries from long range.
When Shane Battier finally made one from the right corner with 7:03 left in the third, he pumped his fist toward the crowd in faux excitement, and James couldn't contain his laughter.
That's also about the time the Heat started to pull away.
James Jones made a 3-pointer to push Miami's lead to 71-59 entering the fourth, and the margin grew to 18 on another 3 from a most unlikely candidate. Chris Andersen — the reserve forward whose last successful 3-point try was in 2009 — connected early in the fourth, the lead was 84-66 and fans soon started heading for the exits.
Other than Jennings, no other Bucks player reached double figures. Jennings shot 10 for 16, while his teammates combined to shoot 23 for 59.
"We weren't able to chip away," Boylan said.
NOTES: Battier jumped center to open the game and actually won the tip. "I take special pride in the intangibles," Battier said. "So when I win a jump ball, it's special. I enjoy it." ... James said after the morning shootaround practice that he intends to take some games off before the playoffs, presumably after Miami wraps up the No. 1 overall seed. ... The Bucks went 1-3 against the Heat this season. ... Jennings got a technical foul late in the first quarter for shoving Andersen after a hard screen. They slapped hands after the play.