MIAMI - The Miami Heat have spent the last two weeks resting up for the playoffs, sometimes sitting all five starters at the same time and still winning games.
The eighth-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, who visit the top-seeded Heat in the opener of a first-round playoff series on Sunday, have spent the last two weeks backing into the postseason.
The Bucks are the only team in the playoffs with a losing record and dropped seven of nine down the stretch.
Most of Miami's injuries were of the nagging or non-existent variety down the stretch with the exception of Dwyane Wade, who was battling a knee issue. Wade returned over the final two games and looked sharp with 21 points and 10 assists on Wednesday.
The Heat are the favorites to repeat as champion and have done little to make anyone doubt that prognostication. Miami finished the season with wins in 37 of its final 39 games and ranks in the top five in both points scored and points allowed.
Milwaukee will try to pick at the Heat's lone weakness on the glass while Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings attempt to wear them out on the perimeter.
TV: 6 p.m. TNT.
ABOUT THE BUCKS (38-44): Milwaukee was two games above .500 after beating the Portland Trail Blazers on March 19 and was threatening to move up out of the No. 8 spot. But the Bucks went 4-12 over their final 16 games and struggled on the defensive end while getting inconsistent production from Jennings and Ellis on the perimeter. Jennings went 1-for-11 from the field in a home loss to Denver in the next-to-last game of the season but had one of his best games with 30 points on 10-of-16 shooting in a 94-83 loss at Miami on April 9. That marked the only time in Milwaukee's final 22 games that he shot better than 50 percent from the floor. Where the Bucks excel is on the glass. Larry Sanders, Ersan Ilyasova, and John Henson will try to keep LeBron James off the boards and out of transition.
ABOUT THE HEAT (66-16): Miami has the best player in the game in James and put together the second-longest winning streak in NBA history with 27 straight that included a 107-94 triumph at Milwaukee on March 15. Anything less than back-to-back titles will be a disappointment for the Heat. Miami's biggest worry on Sunday will be how the team comes together after so many of the regulars took multiple games off and did not get a chance to play together down the stretch. The Heat should be able to shake off that rust by halftime in their own building, where they posted an Eastern Conference-best 37-4 record. James just finished up a regular season in which he shot 56.5 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from beyond the arc. He went 11-for-16 from the field in the April 9 win over the Bucks and has averaged 29.4 points on 50.1 percent shooting against Milwaukee in his career.
1. Sanders missed the final four games of the regular season with a back injury and is questionable for Sunday.
2. The Heat are bidding to become the 10th team (out of 13) to win the title after posting at least 66 wins in the regular season.
3. Henson averaged 15 points and 15 rebounds in the final five games.
PREDICTION: Heat 106, Bucks 89
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