MILWAUKEE – There it was in the visitor’s locker room, written seven times on Miami’s white board.
The Heat thrived in the rowdy atmosphere in Cleveland on Thursday, and just kept rolling in their next road game in Milwaukee.
Dwyane Wade had 25 points and a career-high 14 rebounds back in the city where his career took off and the Heat beat the Bucks 88-78 on Monday night for their fifth straight win.
“We understand that it takes defense to win,” Wade said. “Especially on the road, not only defense, but rebounding the ball. I think we did a great job tonight of team rebounding.”
LeBron James added 17 points and Chris Bosh had 16 points and 12 rebounds as Miami used a 17-2 run in the first half to take control, then weathered a late scoring drought before James, Wade and Bosh hit clutch shots in the closing minutes of the opener of a four-game road trip.
“It doesn’t really matter what we do, if we lose, everyone (says) it doesn’t work. If we win, they should be doing it,” said Wade, who had 26 points in Miami’s 89-77 home win against Atlanta on Saturday night. “Everyone talks about the Miami Heat, they’re always comparing us to teams like Boston, Orlando, the Lakers, but those teams have been playing together for over 300 games. We’ve played together, what, 20 something games? We’ve got a long way to go.”
Corey Maggette scored 20 points for the Bucks, but Milwaukee can’t seem to figure out any team with James on the roster.
Since coach Scott Skiles and general manager John Hammond took over the organization, they are 0-8 against James’ teams, only winning once when James sat out a game with the Cavaliers.
Wade’s three-point play gave Miami a seemingly comfortable 74-61 lead early in the fourth, but the Heat stumbled down the stretch with four missed shots and four turnovers during a 4 1/2-minute scoreless stretch.
Chris Douglas-Roberts hit a 3-pointer, Brandon Jennings added a free throw and Ersan Ilyasova made a 16-footer to make it 74-71.
After a Miami timeout, the Heat went back to James, who waited for Maggette to pass by on defense before making a 15-footer. After a Jennings miss, Wade hit an 18-foot jumper over Douglas-Roberts.
James then swatted away Maggette’s attempt at the rim and Bosh hit a reverse layup around Andrew Bogut to make it 80-71 as the Bucks missed nine straight shots before Maggette’s three-point play.
But Wade, who starred for Marquette in college, once again answered with an 18-foot jumper with 2:07 left and the Bucks couldn’t get closer.
“We’re getting good looks, but we just can’t knock them down,” Jennings said. “It’s starting to be every other game now. Some days we make shots, some days we don’t.”
Carlos Arroyo added 18 points for the Heat, while Milwaukee got 13 points from Jennings and 11 points and 13 rebounds from Bogut.
James set the tone with two early dunks as the Heat jumped out to another strong start. LeBron’s first slam came over Bogut and rookie Larry Sanders, and the second trailing a play on a pass left by Wade, who raised his arms to the side already knowing what was coming next.
Milwaukee (7-13) tied it early in the second quarter after trailing by 10, but Miami turned up the pressure from there as Wade became Miami’s primary offensive threat during the 17-2 run.
Milwaukee was an overmatched mess in Miami’s dominant 9-minute stretch. The Bucks missed 13 of 14 shots and committed four turnovers as the Heat feasted on the mistakes.
“Our trust has gone a long way, it’s come a long way in terms of just moving the ball and hitting the open guy and not worrying about anything else,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
The Bucks got as close as 51-47 early in the third quarter, but the Heat never relinquished the lead.
Milwaukee hasn’t lived up to expectations after last year’s run to the postseason, losing seven of eight before a win over a short-handed Orlando squad on Saturday.
“We just can’t hit a shot,” Hammond said. “I could name about four things that are problems right now.”
Questions surrounded the Heat (14-8) for failing to meet early expectations, too, after a 9-8 start and a team meeting in Dallas following a Nov. 27 loss.
Most of that criticism has dissipated with this winning streak.
The Heat routed Cleveland in James’ return before beating the Hawks on Saturday. Miami will have a lot of time together away in the coming weeks with 14 of the next 20 games on the road after this one, including stops in Utah, Golden State and Sacramento on this trip.
“We’ve had times early in the season where we wasn’t been able to right the ship right, and teams would make a run and we just couldn’t get through that,” James said. “But I think the early season trials and tribulations that we’ve been through just allowed us to calm down and worry about the next play.”
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