MILWAUKEE -- There are plenty of stats, scores and scores actually, of numerical data that explain and put into perspective just how putrid the Eastern Conference really is this season.
But here’s one of the best.
The Philadelphia 76ers’ inglorious losing streak ended at 26 games on Saturday night, but, amazingly, the Sixers do not have the worst record in the conference. That would be the Milwaukee Bucks, or the team the Heat throttled 88-67 at Bradley Center on Saturday to end its final three-game road trip of the season.
The Bucks are dead last in the horrid East, or first in tanking games for the No.1 overall pick in the NBA. It’s all a matter of perspective. Just know this. To tank is to a lose games on purpose for the future benefit of a franchise, and the Sixers and Bucks are competing for the East’s tanking championship. The Sixers’ marketing gurus coined an official slogan for this season that let everyone know just how serious they were about losing more games than anyone else.
“Together we build” was printed on the press passes in Philadelphia for the first game of the season. It’s a euphemism, of course, which, in reality, means “together we tank.” But the Sixers got nothing on the Bucks. Milwaukee is the General George S. Patton of tanking NBA teams this season.
With starters Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers and Greg Oden on the bench with injuries on Saturday, the Heat only scored 65 points in the game’s first three quarters. But the defending back-to-back champions still led the Bucks by 19 points entering the fourth quarter.
For the second night in a row, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra went with a starting lineup that featured James Jones, Udonis Haslem and Toney Douglas to go along with mainstays LeBron James and Chris Bosh. The group of five played well together against the Detroit Pistons on Friday, but lacked rhythm against the Bucks. It didn’t matter. The Bucks are the Bucks, and shot 34.2 percent from the field. Milwaukee, which plays the Heat in Miami on Wednesday, had just 15 assists on 27 field goals.
“There was a good disposition and focus,” Spoelstra said. “Coaches probably enjoy these games more than players, having more of a defensive mindset. The shots weren’t going, but I liked the way we were shooting. They just weren’t dropping on the road, but the defense was good enough to get you a double-digit win and coaches like those type of wins.”
One night after his first triple-double of the season, James finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and two assists in 30 minutes of action.
It was the second night in a row for James to play just 30 minutes. Like in Auburn Hills, Mich., on Friday, James watched the game from the bench in the fourth quarter against the Bucks.
Wade missed his second straight game with a strained hamstring and Chalmers was out with a bruised thigh. The Heat went 2-1 on its road trip without Ray Allen, who did not travel with the team due to a stomach virus. Douglas started for Chalmers and finished with 13 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Jones, who started at shooting guard, was 4 of 6 from the field and 2 of 3 from three-point range for 10 points.
“We hope everyone is going to get healthy when we get back to Miami,” Spoelstra said.
Haslem, making his second consecutive start, found himself in early foul trouble and finished with four points and one rebound in 15 minutes. Chris Andersen provided enough support off the bench to make up for Haslem’s off night. Andersen led the Heat with 14 rebounds and also had eight points.
Bosh led the Heat with 14 points, going 4 of 10 from the field and 6 of 6 from the free-throw line. Rashard Lewis had 13 points off the bench. Heat reserve Justin Hamilton scored the first points of his NBA career with 1:49 left in the fourth quarter. He made a 6-foot running hook shot, drew a foul and converted the and-one free throw. He also made a three-pointer and finished with six points.
Bucks guard Brandon Knight of Fort Lauderdale had 13 points.