Preview: Bucks at Heat

WPPROD

MIAMI — The Miami Heat, stuck in their first six-game losing streak since 2008, are desperate for a win.

The Heat (2-8) plays host on Thursday night to the Milwaukee Bucks (5-5), who will be the less-rested team after losing to the Atlanta Hawks, 107-100, on Wednesday night.

But despite the Heat's slow start, team president Pat Riley said he is not discouraged.

“We love what we have in our young players,” Riley told the media Wednesday. “Our young players … they'll get it, but it doesn't happen overnight.”

The under-24 young players Riley and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra are most relying on include 20-year-old 6-7 small forward Justise Winslow out of Duke and 23-year-old 6-6 shooting guard Josh Richardson from Tennessee. Both are second-year players.

However, injuries have slowed or are now slowing their development.

Richardson started the season on the injured list and missed the first four games. And after making a team-best 46.1 percent of his 3-pointers last season, he has been accurate on just 28.6 percent so far this season.

Winslow is expected to miss his second straight game on Thursday after suffering an injury to his left wrist. His loss is crucial because he leads the team in minutes played and is averaging 11.6 points and 4.7 rebounds.

The problem with Winslow is the same one he entered the NBA with — his shooting accuracy. In fact, his problem has gotten even worse, which has negated, in some respect, all the good things he does on the defensive end and in his all-around game.

Winslow shot 42.2 percent from the floor last season, and that has slipped, alarmingly so, to 33.1 percent this season. His 3-point marksmanship has decreased from 27.6 last season to 21.4 percent so far this season.

Clearly, the Heat needs more from their 2015 draft class, and they also need veteran point guard Goran Dragic (left ankle) to return from injury. Dragic is averaging 16.3 points and a team-high 5.9 assists.

Unfortunately for the Heat, it does not appear they will have either Winslow or Dragic in Thursday's lineup to face the Bucks.

And that's a problem because the Bucks have a talented lineup that belies the 33 wins they managed last year. The Bucks and their length have given the Heat trouble in the past, even when Miami had its great run with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

That Big Three is long gone from Miami. But in Milwaukee, the Bucks appear to be ascending with players such as Jabari Parker, who is only 21; and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is 22.

Parker, a 6-8, 250-pounder, is averaging 19.1 points and 6.2 rebounds. Parker has been more assertive offensively, and that's why he has increased his scoring average from the 14.1 last season.

“Jabari is going to be a perennial All-Star,” Heat assistant coach Juwan Howard said prior to this season.

Antetokounmpo, nicknamed the “Greek Freak”, is already a star. He leads the team in scoring (21.3), rebounds (8.2), blocks (2.1) and steals (2.0). He is also averaging 5.3 assists, which is second on the team behind Matthew Dellavedova (5.9).

The Freak is so talented that the Bucks often use the 6-11, 225-pounder as a point guard on offense.

And Antetokounmpo is so good that President Barack Obama even mentioned him this week while visiting Greece.

“We are all cheering,” Obama said, “for Giannis Antetokounmpo, who seems to be getting better every year.”

The Bucks certainly agree with that sentiment. Antetokounmpo had five triple-doubles last season, which ranked fourth in the NBA.

Bucks coach Jason Kidd said Parker and Antetokounmpo are “vault” players in that they will not be traded.

“You don't even start a conversation about Giannis or Jabari,” Kidd has said. “They are untradeable.”

The Bucks have surrounded their “core two” with players such as center Greg Monroe, who had 32 double-doubles last season; and 6-4 guard Dellavedova, a high-effort difference-maker on the court.

Milwaukee, a dreadful perimeter-shooting team last season, has also improved in that regard. Free-agent newcomer Mirza Teletovic and 2015 first-round pick Rashad Vaughn are the main reason for that improvement.

Add it all up, and the Heat's long losing streak may continue, especially if Dragic and Winslow are unable to play.