The Miami Heat haven't faced much difficulty compiling the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, but the Milwaukee Bucks have surprisingly had their number.
In the midst of both a six-game road trip and its only back-to-back-to-back stretch of 2011-12, Miami tries to avoid a three-game sweep of its season series with Milwaukee on Monday night.
The Heat (21-7) are tied with Chicago for the fewest losses in the East and have a three-game Southeast Division cushion over second-place Atlanta, but they haven't been able to solve the Bucks (12-15). Milwaukee has limited Miami to 88.0 points per game while taking three straight in this series, including both meetings this season.
After prevailing 91-82 in Florida on Jan. 22 while holding the Heat to a season-worst 37.3 percent from the floor, Milwaukee handed visiting Miami a 105-97 defeat Feb. 1 - managing to overcome a season-high 40 points from LeBron James.
"It's a tough job, going against those guys," Bucks forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute said following the Feb. 1 win. "But it's a fun job, too. Those guys are the best and it's always fun to play against the best."
Since kicking off their trek Wednesday with a 102-89 loss at Orlando, the Heat have certainly looked every bit like one of the top teams in the league. Two nights after cruising to a 106-89 win over Washington, Miami blew out Atlanta 107-87 on Sunday.
The Heat outrebounded the Hawks 52-38 and limited them to 38.9 percent shooting. Miami is 10-1 when holding opponents below 40.0 percent from the floor - with the only such loss coming in the Jan. 22 defeat to Milwaukee.
"We couldn't script it (any) better," said James, who had 23 points, 13 rebounds and six assists.
"When we play our best basketball, we can beat anybody. You have to do the dirty work. You have to defend."
Dwyane Wade added 21 points, and is averaging 25.3 on 54.7 percent shooting over his last eight games.
James and Wade will now face a Bucks team coming off its fourth loss in six games. Milwaukee blew a 10-point lead en route to a 99-94 home loss to the Magic on Saturday.
"We just need to play better," said swingman Mike Dunleavy, who scored 14 points. "There's nothing at this point to take from losses other than we gotta come out and respond and get a win Monday night."
The Bucks will likely need a better effort from Brandon Jennings if they hope to get back on track. Averaging a team-high 18.6 points, Jennings scored just seven while shooting 3 of 14 on Saturday - marking the third time in five games he's been held to single digits in points.
While Jennings struggles, center Drew Gooden has picked up the pace. He scored 21 points against Orlando and is averaging 19.2 - well above his 12.8 season average - over his last 10 contests.
After opening 7-2 at the Bradley Center, Milwaukee has dropped three straight home games by an average of 10.0 points. The Bucks haven't lost four in a row at home since Dec. 16-26, 2009.
James is averaging 31.2 points over his last 13 road meetings with the Bucks. He scored 55 - one shy of his career high - in a 111-103 Cavaliers win at the Bradley Center on Feb. 20, 2009.
The Heat visit Indiana on Tuesday before concluding their trip Friday at Cleveland.
- Milwaukee Bucks