3 tantalizing storylines to monitor for Monday’s Miami Heat-Milwaukee Bucks matchup

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The Miami Heat have a crucial early-season test on Monday night against the Milwaukee Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard.

These two teams have been linked to each other for several reasons entering this matchup, dating back to last season’s playoffs.

Miami and Jimmy Butler pulled off a massive upset in the first round, knocking the No. 1-seeded Bucks out of the playoffs in five games. Miami eventually went on to reach the NBA Finals – the team’s second appearance in four seasons.

To add to the drama, this past offseason, the Heat were believed to be suitors for Lillard, the former Portland Trail Blazers guard, until they weren’t. Miami’s offer apparently wasn’t enough to entice the Blazers, and they ended up dealing Lillard to Milwaukee in a three-team trade that also featured the Phoenix Suns.

That sets up a big game for Miami in just its fourth matchup of the season, as the team has a little bit of a chip on its shoulder.

The Heat lost guard Gabe Vincent and sharpshooter Max Strus this past offseason, so the team has some new pieces in the rotation that it is looking to get the most out of.

Moreover, Tyler Herro, who was rumored to be the primary piece in a potential Lillard trade, certainly has something to prove in this matchup.

Here are three storylines to look out for in Miami’s game against the Bucks on Oct. 30.

1. New-look Dame’s 1st game against the Heat

Heat fans may have envisioned this game differently after Lillard’s trade request, but he’ll be opposing the squad on Monday night.

“I’m not going into [Monday] like, ‘This is the team I was supposed to be playing for,’” Lillard said. “None of that. I know Jimmy [Butler], I know Bam [Adebayo]. We’re cool. But I play for the Bucks and I’m not going into it like that’s my former team or we were tied in or nothing like that. It’s just another game.”

If the Heat struggle – and especially if Herro does – there could be some regret from the Miami side, but the Heat have to focus on the team that they have now.

After a great debut with the Bucks, Lillard struggled mightily in the team’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday. He scored just six points on 2-of-12 shooting, and the Heat would love to hold him to a similar game on Monday.

Ultimately, this is a good test for the Heat to see how they can defend Lillard, Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. The Bucks should have a lethal offense this season, but it’s something the Heat have to be able to stop if they want to make it out of the East.

2. Herro’s homecoming

This is a huge game for Herro, who is a native of the Milwaukee area.

Not only does the former Sixth Man of the Year have something to prove after being included in trade rumors, but he also wants to show out in front of the Milwaukee crowd.

“Definitely excited,” Herro said about today’s game. “Any time I can play at home in front of my family and my friends is always fun. You know, it’s definitely been in the back of my mind for a couple different reasons. It will be a good game to bounce back after tonight, so I’m excited for it.”

Whether it is fair or not, Herro is going to be compared to Lillard at times this season because the two were linked in trade rumors. All the Heat guard can do is put his best foot forward for the team all season, and hopefully, Miami’s success will speak for itself.

When asked about if there is any “added motivation” for tonight’s game, Herro couldn’t help but answer in the affirmative.

“Of course,” Herro said. “Every game is another opportunity to prove ourselves, prove myself. You see, obviously, the reasons that are on my mind. I’m just excited to be back in Milwaukee and playing.”

Herro can’t try to do too much to show that he’s just as valuable as Lillard. Instead, he just needs to play his game, which has made him a valuable asset for Miami since the team drafted him.

3. Supporting cast vs. supporting cast

This may seem like a small aspect of the game, but it really could be key to see how these teams would match up in a potential best-of-seven series come the postseason.

Miami and Milwaukee have both seen their rotations shift recently, making their supporting casts a key storyline to monitor.

Miami is still without Haywood Highsmith going into this game, although it may get guard Josh Richardson (questionable) back in the lineup.

Miami obviously saw some turnover on its roster with Vincent and Strus moving on, and it’s led to a new supporting cast – and some familiar faces – around Butler, Herro, Adebayo and Kyle Lowry.

Key players in Miami’s supporting cast this season:

  • Duncan Robinson
  • Thomas Bryant
  • Jamal Cain
  • Dru Smith
  • Jaime Jaquez Jr.
  • Nikola Jovic
  • Josh Richardson
  • Caleb Martin
  • Kevin Love

There is plenty of star power between these two teams, but will Miami’s bench and role players match up well with Milwaukee’s?

Youngsters like Jaquez and Jovic have been thrown to the fire early in the season, but it could make them valuable pieces down the road.

With Martin and Highsmith banged up, the Heat have played Cain in the rotation at points this season as well.

Meanwhile, players like Richardson and Smith will do their best to make up for the loss of Vincent going forward, and Bryant gives the team a new backup center option after the squad used Cody Zeller last season.

Robinson and Love remain solid pieces (and Martin when healthy), but the Heat have a lot to figure out about who is truly going to be in this rotation down the stretch of the season. If the team can match up well with Milwaukee in this meeting, the players that thrive could have bigger roles as the season goes on.

Milwaukee also lost some role players this past offseason, including Grayson Allen (traded in the Lillard deal) and Joe Ingles (signed with the Orlando Magic in free agency).

The team brought in some new faces such as Malik Beasley and Cameron Payne to play alongside Lillard, Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Brook Lopez.

Key players in Milwaukee’s supporting cast this season:

  • MarJon Beauchamp
  • Jae Crowder
  • Malik Beasley
  • Bobby Portis
  • Pat Connaughton
  • Cameron Payne

The Bucks may not have as much depth as Miami because of the Lillard trade, and it’ll be interesting to see how this group fares against the Heat.

The team is likely hoping for more from Crowder in his first full season with the Bucks since he came over at last season’s deadline, and it could use Beasley to replace the loss of Allen’s outside shooting.

At the top, the two teams are fairly even, however, the role players can really determine the outcome. If Miami can have the edge in that department in this game, it’s a good sign for the team going forward.

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Peter is a graduate of Quinnipiac University where he covered the MAAC and college basketball for three years. He has worked for NBC Sports, the Connecticut Sun and the Meriden Record-Journal covering basketball and other major sports. Follow him on Twitter @peterdewey2.