• Cody Kluge

Can the Milwaukee Bucks Take Down the Miami Heat in Round Two?

A historic season for the Milwaukee Bucks has continued in the bubble at Disney. The playoffs began with a hiccup for the cream and green after they dropped game one to the eight seeded Orlando Magic. Of course, a lot of unnecessary panic ensued. But the Bucks stormed back to take the next four games of the series, setting up an Eastern Conference semifinal matchup with the Miami Heat.

The Bucks went just 3-5 in their eight tune-up contests before the postseason, and the fact that a depleted Magic team gave them fits is cause for concern. They have also had their fair share of struggles against the Heat this season. So, can the Bucks regroup and take down the Heat in a seven game series?

Miami is coming into the series hot. Although they went just 3-5 in their eight regular season bubble games as well, the Heat made quick work of the Pacers, winning all four games played in the series by at least nine points. 

Jimmy Butler is the leader of this Heat team and he is predictably playing well. A playoff veteran from his time with the Bulls and last year with the Sixers, Butler brings good experience to a young Heat core.

But it’s the contributions the Heat are getting from that core that makes them dangerous. Guys like Duncan Robinson, Goran Dragic, and Kendrick Nunn have all had very productive games so far in the bubble. With budding stars like Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro, the Heat are set up to make a run not only this year but for a long time to come.

This scrappy Miami squad also matches up well with the Bucks, and has had success against Milwaukee this year. In the Bucks’ home opener, Miami held on to win a thrilling overtime game. But it was in a home game against the Bucks in early March where the Heat really imposed their will on the Bucks and held Giannis in check.

When they played in the bubble, Miami jumped to a 20-plus point lead. The Bucks would storm back to win, but it is clear the Heat are ready for this team.

So, how can Giannis and the Bucks make sure they keep their championship aspirations alive?

Of course it starts with the reigning MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. Giannis is going to get his, and although the Heat might be one of the better teams in the league at containing him, we know the Greek Freak will give 100% effort.

But the questions start coming after that. Perhaps the biggest question mark and biggest disappointment of the first round series against the Magic was Khris Middleton. Averaging a career high 21 points per game in his second consecutive All-Star season, Middleton seemed like a sure thing to remain consistent in the playoffs.

But in the first round, that was anything but the case. Middleton shot just 5-20 in the first two games of the series, which included a two-point dud in game two. While his scoring came on later in the series, his efficiency did not, still shooting under or around 40%. For the Bucks to beat Miami or anyone else in the bubble, they need Khash to get back to his consistent All-Star form.

Of course, the third of the Bucks’ “big three” already has his own playoff questions. Eric Bledsoe has been an annual underachiever in the postseason, and fans will lack trust in the point guard until he proves he can play on the biggest stage. His play was not too bad against Orlando, especially in game three when the Bucks were +21 with Bledsoe on the court. But he will need to take his game to a near all-star level against the Heat and beyond.

Then, who will step up off the Bucks’ bench? Pat Connaughton had a pretty good series against the Magic. Kyle Korver also contributed some good minutes and hot shooting. But the calling card for the Bucks all season was their depth, and they need more guys to step up when called upon.

George Hill has not necessarily played poorly so far in the bubble, but if he can get to the level he played at last postseason – specifically in the conference finals – it makes the Bucks all the more dangerous. 

Meanwhile, Donte DiVincenzo – often a fill-in starter for the team in the regular season – also needs to step up. Although just a second year guy in his first real playoff experience, the Big Ragu consistently hitting threes and attacking the rim is huge for this team.

With both teams relatively healthy, and no outside variables to factor in like home-court advantage, this series basically comes down to matchups. On paper, the Bucks would appear to be stronger across the board. You would probably take Bledsoe over Dragic, Wesley Matthews over Robinson, and Giannis over Derrick Jones Jr. 

But the real keys will be how does Middleton fare against Butler? And can Brook Lopez outplay Bam Adebayo? If Middleton and Lopez succeed, this could be a quick four or five game series. If not, the Heat might take the Bucks to the brink.

Ultimately, I think we will see the Bucks win the series in six games. Giannis is just too much to handle in a seven game series, and the Bucks have more depth and talent across the board. But it would not be a surprise to see the Heat take Milwaukee to a seventh game, and even pull out the series.

The winner will face either Boston or Toronto. While we can’t predict exactly what will happen, we do know these will be two terrific series as we head to the conference finals.

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