First, Bucks guard Brandon Jennings said in March that he hoped Milwaukee would play the Heat in the first round because he believes the Bucks match up well.
Now that a Heat-Bucks series that begins Sunday night has become a reality, Jennings not only isn’t distancing himself from that rhetoric but also is adding fuel.
“I’m sure everybody is writing us off, but I see us winning the series in six,” Jennings said this week. “There’s no pressure on us.”
The comment caught the Heat’s attention, even though coach Erik Spoelstra said he wouldn’t mention it to his players because “that wouldn’t deserve me bringing it up. This thing will be decided between those four lines, and you can’t hide from it.”
Here’s how Heat players reacted to Jennings’ prediction:
• Chris Bosh: “If he thinks they’re going to win, great. They already had our attention. Now they have more of our attention.”
• Shane Battier: “There’s no need for talk. Just play. Let your game speak for itself. … We don’t give that sort of talk much time. We have more important things to worry about.”
• Dwyane Wade: “We don’t need any motivation from what a guy says. A guy is supposed to have confidence in his team.”
• Asked if he appreciates the Bucks’ confidence, LeBron James said: “I can only appreciate what we do here. Whatever their confidence or motivation, that’s for them to figure out, worry about.”
Wade said there’s no risk of overlooking an opponent that finished six games under .500.
“We know they’re a good team, especially if you let them get to their game. … We respect teams more than they respect us, probably,” Wade said.
Spoelstra said overlooking an opponent isn’t an issue with this team.
“Milwaukee will get the respect they deserve,” Spoelstra said. “This team can be very challenging, with that speed and quickness, great shot-blocking.”
He said he told his team to “stay in the moment” because “everybody wants to fast track right now. For some ill-informed people, this series doesn’t draw enough interest in their eyes.”
To wit: Game 2 is relegated to NBA TV.
But Spoelstra said: “This is a team that has challenged us, and we struggled against them in our first two games.”
The Heat beat the Bucks in overtime in their first meeting, lost by 19 at Milwaukee in December, and beat them by 13 and 11 in their final two matchups.
Spoelstra has remained noncommittal about whether he will stick with forward Udonis Haslem as a starter or instead opt for Battier, who started in last year’s Finals and through the first month of this season.
Haslem has started since mid-December, including throughout Miami’s 27-game winning streak, but said Spoelstra hasn’t told him if he will remain in that role.
“I’m as anxious as you guys are to see what happens,” Battier said, saying the decision could hinge partly on matchups.
• James said sitting out some games — six of the final 11 — “allowed me to miss the game again, and that’s what I need. You need something just to kind of make you miss it, love it again.” He compared it to a man being away from his wife for a few days.
• Wade, who missed some time late in the season with soreness in his right knee, did not participate in the contact portion of practice.
“My goal is to feel good by Sunday,” he said. Spoelstra said the rest of his team is healthy.
• The Heat said a limited number of tickets remain for Games 1 and 2.