The Miami Heat will get an early preview of an expected first-round playoff matchup Tuesday night when they host the Milwaukee Bucks in South Beach.
The Heat wrapped up the top seed in the Eastern Conference and Milwaukee stands in eighth. The Bucks are 2 1/2 games behind the Boston Celtics for the seventh seed, but with just six games left in the regular season, this seems like a fairly safe bet as a first-round series.
Since the Heat's historic 27-game winning streak was snapped, they are 4-1, all the while, resting key players like LeBron James, Mario Chalmers and Dwyane Wade.
James came back on Saturday night when the Heat hosted, then hammered the Philadelphia 76ers, 106-87. He went for 27 points and was one of six Miami players in double figures. Chalmers scored 11 and Wade was shelved for the fourth straight game.
The Heat's win against the Sixers turned in the fourth quarter. Miami held a one-point lead with 12 minutes to go, but then outscored the Sixers 29-11 to cruise to the victory.
"In the second half, for better or worse, we just played more aggressively," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
The Bucks secured their first playoff spot in three seasons their last time out.
A 100-83 home victory over the Toronto Raptors on Saturday allowed the Bucks to make the playoffs.
"You work hard all season, we've had ups and downs," said interim head coach Jim Boylan. "It's pretty nice to be able to clinch when you have six games left. It's a great feeling, very satisfying."
The Bucks jumped on the Raptors early, taking a 19-point lead into the locker room at halftime. They extended it further in the third quarter, and Toronto just adjusted the margin of victory with its play in the fourth.
Monta Ellis was sensational on Saturday with 22 points, nine assists and six steals. Brandon Jennings added 16 points, while Larry Sanders posted 12 points, nine rebounds and six blocks. Mike Dunleavy and Luc Mbah a Moute each had 10.
If this is indeed the first-round matchup in the playoffs, it could be a little more interesting than people think.
The Bucks defeated the Heat 104-85 in Milwaukee this season and the Bucks took the Heat to overtime in South Beach. The two teams have split the last 14 meetings, but Milwaukee has won four of its last six in Miami.