MIAMI (AP)—At this point, milestones mean little to Udonis Haslem. He’s too busy getting his game in postseason form.
Dwyane Wade scored 27 points, Haslem had 16 points and 12 rebounds for his 100th career double-double, and the Miami Heat improved their stance in the Eastern Conference playoff chase by beating the reeling Milwaukee Bucks 102-85 on Saturday night.
“These last 10 games are very, very important,” said Haslem, one of two remaining cornerstone players from Miami’s 2006 NBA championship team, with Wade being the other. “So I’m just trying to provide whatever spark I can provide.”
He provided a spark when Miami needed it most in this one.
Within a 15-second span midway through the fourth, Haslem hit a jumper, defended a screen and made a steal that set up another Heat basket—all snuffing out the Bucks’ attempt at coming back from a 25-point deficit. Milwaukee got within seven, but thanks in large part to Haslem, came no closer in the final minutes.
“The more intense the games get, the more they mean, the more significance and weight to these games, the better Udonis plays,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
Richard Jefferson scored 32 and Dan Gadzuric had 18 points and 12 rebounds for Milwaukee, which lost its fifth straight. The Bucks’ bench was outscored 26-0 in the first half, 37-14 in the game, and no Milwaukee reserve scored until Luc Richard Mbah a Moute’s free throws with 5.2 seconds left in the third quarter.
And still, the Heat had to sweat it out in the fourth.
“We played hard during that stretch, trying to get back in it,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. “We started double-teaming the ball a bit. We were able to create some turnovers. Playing from such a deficit again, it’s very difficult to come back and beat a good team.”
Up 75-50 with 4:40 remaining in the third and looking poised for a blowout win, Miami suddenly found itself in a game that was anything but decided.
With Jefferson getting 12 points to lead the way, Milwaukee went on a 25-7 run over the next 9 minutes, holding Miami to 2-for-15 shooting from the field in that stretch. Ramon Sessions made a pair of free throws with 7:40 left, and Milwaukee was within 82-75.
The rally ended there.
Haslem—who was 8-for-9 from the field—scored at one end, intercepted a pass at the other to set up a 20-foot, falling-down jumper by Wade, and the Heat held on. Jones hit a pair of 3-pointers 2 1/2 minutes apart, the second of which increased the Heat lead 89-77 with 6:13 left.
“They made the NBA run that you make,” Wade said. “We went up 20-something, but they made their run and we pushed it right back up.”
Miami (39-34) moved a full game ahead of Philadelphia (37-34) in the race for fifth in the East—a critical spot because it would ensure not seeing Cleveland, Orlando or Boston until at least the second round of the playoffs.
The Heat also closed within three games of Atlanta, which still has the inside track on the East’s No. 4 seed.
The Bucks (31-43) remain alive in the postseason chase, albeit barely and perhaps only mathematically. They fell five games behind Detroit—a winner over Washington earlier Saturday—for the East’s final postseason spot with only eight games remaining.
“We haven’t been playing the type of basketball that we would like,” Jefferson said. “We’ve been fighting all year long. The last 10-12 games we’ve been very inconsistent. We still have a ways to go. … We just want to win as many games as possible and see where we stand. We just have to keep fighting.”
Milwaukee has now lost 28 games against the East this season; only Washington has been worse in that regard.
Miami survived a bit of a slow start to take a 30-23 lead after one quarter, then held the Bucks without a field goal for nearly a four-minute stretch of the second on the way to a 58-43 advantage at intermission.
The Heat are 60-40 when Haslem has a double-double. … Milwaukee’s first five reserves played a combined 45 minutes, 12 seconds before any of them scored. … When Miami hosts Orlando on Monday, halftime will be 24 minutes—10 longer than usual—because of Alonzo Mourning’s jersey retirement ceremony. … Retired tennis star Anna Kournikova was among those in the crowd.