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MIAMI — The Miami Heat, the second-hottest team in the NBA, is set to face the “Greek Freak,” who is one of the world’s most popular basketball stars.
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On Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena, the Heat (24-17) will put their six-game win streak — second only to the Boston Celtics — on the line against the visiting Milwaukee Bucks (22-17).
The Bucks are led by 6-foot-11 point forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is a virtual lock for his second straight All-Star appearance. He is set to start this year’s game due to the voting as it stands so far.
Antetokounmpo, a 23-year-old from Athens, Greece, is averaging a career-best 28.7 points, which ranks second in the league. He also averages a career-best 10.7 rebounds as well as 4.6 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks.
“People around the world have developed an affection for Giannis and understand how good he is,” Bucks senior vice president Alex Lasry told jsonline.com. “And he’s not only a great player — he’s also likable.”
The Bucks are still without starting forward Jabari Parker, who had surgery on his left knee and has yet to play this season. He is due to return next month.
With Parker out, 6-foot-8 forward Khris Middleton, in his sixth year in the NBA, is having a career year with a 20.3 points-per-game average.
Milwaukee’s backcourt is led by Eric Bledsoe (17.9 points and 4.3 assists) and Malcolm Brogdon (13.2 points and 3.4 assists).
Meanwhile, Miami is winning despite all sorts of issues. Forward James Johnson is set to return on Sunday after he was suspended for one game due to an on-court altercation.
Heat guard Tyler Johnson (neck) and forward Justise Winslow (knee) could play on Sunday — they are set to be game-time decisions. Starting shooting guard Dion Waiters announced this week that he will have season-ending surgery on his left ankle.
“We are confident this surgery will resolve all of the issues with the ankle,” the Heat said in a statement. “This process will not just repair the ankle but also kick-start a whole new reboot for Dion.”
But even without Waiters and other players who have been in and out of the lineup, Miami is finally rolling. The Heat aren’t blowing teams out. Two of their wins in this streak came by one point and another required overtime. In addition, all six of those games were decided by less than 10 points.
Winning those close games has been key for Miami.
Another interesting thing about the Heat is that this is a team without superstars — certainly no one of the caliber of the “Greek Freak.” Point guard Goran Dragic leads the Heat with a modest 17.0 points average.
So, how are the Heat getting this done?
“We just have trust in one another,” Tyler Johnson told The Miami Herald. “We’ve been in so many close games. … We understand that it’s by committee. We don’t rely on just one guy. Everybody is a threat. Everybody is an option.”