2020 Playoff Preview: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Miami Heat
The 2020 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals are set, with the Toronto Raptors going up against the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks facing off with the Miami Heat. The Bucks stumbled against the Orlando Magic in Game 1 of their series but quickly righted the ship to smash the Magic and win the next four. The Heat, meanwhile, swept the Indiana Pacers in four games to advance, though all four contests were definitely competitive. Miami was the only Eastern Conference team to beat the Bucks twice during the season, with the Bucks getting revenge during the play-in games. Now these teams will face off for a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Giannis vs. Bam and Crew
It’s no secret reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is the engine through which the Bucks drive. Whether in transition or in the half-court, any team looking to beat the Bucks has to find a way to slow down Antetokounmpo. To that effect, the Heat have one of the few players in the league qualified to properly guard Giannis in Bam Adebayo. Finishing fifth in defensive player of the year voting, Adebayo has the right mix of size, athleticism, and discipline to cause problems for Giannis. Adebayo won’t be Miami’s lone defender for Giannis; expect to see Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder, or Jimmy Butler spend time defending him. Bam and crew will look to limit Antetokounmpo’s drives to the rim and give him the space to launch jumpers. The only problem, Giannis knocked down 38.5% on 5.2 3-point attempts per game in the Magic series.
On the other end, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the newly crowned defensive player of the year Giannis guarding Adebayo. His length and athleticism will shut down a lot of Adebayo’s rolls, drives, and passing lanes. Adebayo has yet to establish himself as a shooting threat, letting Giannis roam off-ball as a terrifying help defender. Whether through off-ball motion, pick and rolls, or making shots, the Heat have to find a way to avoid Giannis sagging off Adebayo off-ball.
Supporting Cast Snipers
While there are some questions about their best players’ shooting, both teams feature rosters deep with 3-point threats. This season the Heat finished second in 3P%, while the Bucks finished 17th. On the other hand, though, the Bucks were fourth in 3PA while the Heat were ninth. The Bucks are built more for volume; with a lot of their attempts being generated from Giannis drive-and-kicks. The Heat prefer to continually pass the ball around hunting for a better shot. In the end, both teams rely heavily on their supporting players to knock down threes.
For the Bucks, that’s mainly Wesley Matthews, Brook Lopez, and Kyle Korver. Korver and Lopez shot decently in the Magic series, shooting 37.5% and 36.0% respectively. Matthews, meanwhile, dropped 42.9% of his threes. Pat Connaughton and George Hill also contributed well in the Magic series, giving the Bucks more options.
For the Heat, the main snipers for them are Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, and Goran Dragic. Robinson shook off some Game 1 rust to end up going 44.4% on 6.8 3PA per game. Dragic was hot from the start, finishing 41.4% on 7.3 3PA per game. Herro struggled a good bit but was routinely taking tough shots. Crowder, Kendrick Nunn, and Kelly Olynyk all struggled in the series, shooting well below their regular season averages. If they can get back in gear, Miami will arguably have the deeper and better shooting from their support cast.
For the Bucks, Khris Middleton is easily their biggest x-factor. It sounds weird to say that about an All-Star, but Middleton is the player that sets the ceiling for the Bucks as a title contender. Last year he struggled and the Bucks subsequently lost in the Eastern Conference Finals. He showed some worrying signs to begin the Magic series, but picked it up as the series went along. He finished the series scoring 21 points in back to back games while also getting his 3-point shot back. Middleton also did great work on the boards, finishing Game 3 and 4 with 10 rebounds each. The Bucks need Middleton to carry that over into this series lest they open the door for an upset.
On Miami’s side, their x-factor is most likely Jimmy Butler. Butler started the series filling the stat sheet in all areas, including the 3-point column! All season Butler has struggled to shoot, almost abandoning even attempting it at times, but in Games 1 and 2 he knocked down two huge threes in each to give Miami the wins. He went 0-2 in Game 3 and didn’t attempt any in Game 4. If Butler’s jumper is truly back, Miami’s closer will be that much better when the time really counts. Alongside with his jumper, there’s also the question of his health. During Game 4 Butler suffered a left shoulder strain, though he was able to come back later and finished at 23 minutes that night. Butler has since said he’s “good to go” but keep an eye out if shoulder becomes an issue.
Bucks vs. Heat has the potential to go a full seven game series. Both teams play well on both ends, feature deep rosters with plenty of flexibility and shooting, and matchup well with each other. In the end though the Bucks still have the best player in the series in Antetokounmpo. They also have a little more experience than a Heat team relying on several playoff rookies. The Heat will definitely push the Bucks, but it’ll most likely fall to them in six or seven games. As a Heat fan, I’ll say Bucks in seven.