MIAMI — The Milwaukee Bucks won 28 fewer regular-season games than the Miami Heat. They’ve lost 12 of their last 16 games. They’ve been manhandled by the Heat in the past two meetings.
But that hasn’t resulted in the confidence of Milwaukee point guard Brandon Jennings waning in the slightest.
Jennings told reporters Thursday night “I see us winning the series in six.’’ His boast even was tweeted by the Bucks’ official account.
Meanwhile, some on the Heat (66-16) were rolling their eyes after practice Friday. They don’t mind at all having some extra motivation for their first-round series that begins Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“If they already had our attention, now they have more of our attention,’’ said Miami center Chris Bosh. “So it will be a lot of fun when we play them… If he’s going to show his hand, then that’s fantastic.’’
When it comes to legendary sports predictions, standing out is Joe Namath guaranteeing his New York Jets would win Super Bowl III over Baltimore in January 1969. The Jets were a 17-point underdog.
That’s nothing compared to the long odds the Bucks (38-44) face. They will be hard-pressed to win one game in the series, let alone four.
“Joe Namath, he predicted the Super Bowl win, that took the cake right there,’’ said Heat forward Shane Battier. “After that, everybody should just give up. But this is America. Everyone is entitled to his option, the right of free speech. So God bless him.’’
It’s not as if Jennings hadn’t previously been jabbering.
“There will be more pressure on them than us,’’ Jennings had told FOX Sports Florida before the Heat played at Miami on April 9, when it was all but certain the teams would meet in the first round. “So maybe we can probably steal (the series).’’
That comment came before the Bucks were manhandled 94-83 by a Miami team playing without stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. And it came before Milwaukee started that night what became a five-game losing streak.
At least Jennings has more of a right to talk than anybody on the Bucks. In four games this season against the Heat, he averaged 23.8 points, 5.8 assists and 2.5 steals.
“Brandon Jennings is a very good player,’’ Wade said. “He’s obviously played very well, shooting the ball, scoring at a very high level. Our point guard will have a tough job… The biggest thing is to keep him out of transition and make him face a halfcourt defense.’’
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said the “quickness’’ of Milwaukee’s backcourt provides the most concern. In addition to Jennings, who averaged 17.5 points during the regular season, the Bucks feature guard Monta Ellis, who averaged 19.2 points.
The Heat also are paying great heed to Milwaukee center Larry Sanders. The candidate for Defensive Player of the Year averaged 9.5 points and 2.83 blocks in addition to 9.8 points.
The Bucks have given the Heat some problems since the Big Three of LeBron James, Wade and Bosh were put together in in 2010-11. After dropping the first three, they won four of six in a stretch over three seasons. To start this season, Milwaukee lost in overtime 113-106 last November at Miami before winning 104-85 at home in December.
But the Heat lately have corrected previous difficulties. They hammered the Bucks 107-94 on March 15 in Milwaukee before again having no problems with them last week despite being shorthanded.
“We played harder,’’ Battier said of the difference for the Heat in the final two games of the regular season. “We didn’t match their energy and they handled us. So I think the last two games we just played harder.’’
So the Bucks already got the Heat’s attention by playing them well before. And now, with Jennings saying what he did, they seem to want to get it even more.
“Whatever their confidence or motivation is, that’s for them to figure out,’’ James said.
At least Jennings didn’t further prod the Heat by predicting the Bucks will win in four games.