What Are the Biggest Threats to the Bucks Championship Hopes?



The Milwaukee Bucks have had a season for the record books so far, going a franchise best 35-6 through the first half of their schedule. Giannis is playing at an even higher MVP level than he was last year, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe could be on their way to All-Star seasons, and the team is deeper than arguably any other squad in the NBA.


Fans in Milwaukee are thinking championship, and the Bucks are the clear favorite to take home the NBA title in June as of right now. It’s been as good of a first half as anyone could imagine in the Cream City, and the hope is that it continues right on through the remainder of the season. However, in the NBA it is rare for things to go perfect. The Bucks are more than likely going to face obstacles on their road to the Finals in the form of players, teams, and other x-factors. Their ability to overcome them will be key to whether or not we see a championship parade in Milwaukee at the end of June. Here is a list by category of the threats the Bucks face:


Teams


Philadelphia 76ers: The Bucks have a tough time matching up with the long and athletic Sixers. While Philly is struggling a bit and are without Joel Embiid right now, they still have to be seen as the most likely opponent in a potential Eastern Conference Finals series. Either way, the Bucks will likely have to go through them at some point, and anyone who watched these teams match up on Christmas Day knows the Sixers are capable of giving the Bucks all they can handle.




Boston Celtics: Boston is another one of six teams to defeat the Bucks this year, and these teams are very familiar with each other, matching up each of the past two postseasons. The Celtics have youth on their side with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and Kemba Walker is always more of a threat when the lights are shining brightest. The Bucks have more talent, but if Boston turns it on, it is not crazy to think they could win a seven-game series.


Toronto Raptors: Another team the Bucks are familiar with, Nick Nurse’s squad has held their own this year despite several injuries to add to the loss of Kawhi Leonard in free agency. If Toronto can get healthy they could be a tough out, and they know what it takes to win at the highest level.


Miami Heat: The Heat do not have the most talent in the NBA, but they are scrappy, well-coached, and overall tough to play against. They beat the Bucks in Milwaukee in the second game of the year, and they have the size and quickness to challenge Giannis in a playoff series.


Los Angeles Clippers: The West has six teams that have legitimate title aspirations at this point in the season, but it still is hard to imagine the Staples Center not hosting basketball games come June. The Clips have a pedigreed coach in Doc Rivers, last year’s Finals MVP who took out the Bucks in the conference Finals, and they have another elite player in Paul George. They also have a deep roster to contend with the Bucks.


Los Angeles Lakers: Quite possibly the biggest threat to the Bucks is LeBron, AD, and the Lakers. As we saw when they played in December, the Bucks are a much deeper team. But any team with LeBron is going to be a significant threat, and his Finals experience combined with the elite level Davis is playing at would be the ultimate challenge for the Bucks.


Players


Joel Embiid: 21 comes to play every time he faces the Bucks, as he knows that the Bucks are team that he needs to will his squad past to achieve his championship aspirations. Embiid is long and his ability to play inside and out is a touch matchup for anyone, let alone the Bucks. He is capable of giving Giannis a challenge on the defensive side of the floor as well, and if he’s healthy he makes the Bucks as nervous as anyone in the league.

Kemba Walker: As mentioned, Kemba can turn it on for multi-game stretches, and anyone who watched his college career knows that. He has never had much of a chance to shine in the NBA Playoffs, but he will this year, and that could be scary for all of the NBA. He will need help from Tatum and Brown among others, but Kemba is certainly capable of special play, something the Bucks already got a taste of this season.


Jimmy Butler: Butler is no stranger to the playoffs and he currently has his Heat in the running for a top four seed in the East. Jimmy Buckets is not only a capable scorer, but is still one of the top defenders in the league and has the capability to give Giannis and Middleton fits over the course of a playoff series.


Kawhi Leonard: Bucks fans will not soon forget what Leonard did to this team last year in Toronto, and he is more than capable of doing it again in a potential Finals series. Leonard has more star power to lean on with Paul George on this Clippers team, and his championship pedigree may only be behind LeBron’s among active players right now.


LeBron James: Speaking of LeBron, he may not be young anymore, but he is still the most feared player in this league. Giannis is close to taking that title but whenever LeBron is on the court his team has a chance to win. Playing with a fellow top 10 player in the league, and some solid complementary pieces, LeBron will be able to give anyone, including the Bucks, all they can handle in the playoffs.


Anthony Davis: LeBron’s partner in crime is a big threat and tough matchup especially for the Bucks. Like Embiid, he has the inside out game, speed, and size to challenge Giannis on both ends. Although he lacks playoff experience, he plays alongside one of the greatest to ever lace them up and will have no problems with the bright lights of the Finals should he get there.


X-Factors


Health: This is an x-factor for any team in any sport, but for the Bucks it really looms large. This team is very deep, and can survive losses of guys like Middleton or Bledsoe for a few weeks as they have proven already this season. But if either of those guys or more significantly Giannis would suffer a lengthy or season ending injury, the Bucks title hopes would take a drastic hit.


Schedule: No one would say the Bucks schedule has been easy to this point, but once they hit March and April it becomes increasingly challenging. Road games against the Heat, Lakers, Nuggets, Mavericks, Raptors, Celtics, and Sixers all loom to close out the season and some tough home matchups are mixed in too. An 82-game schedule is not easy and it will be important for the Bucks not to wear down but rather become battle tested through their tough last month and a half.


Not getting home court advantage: With the tough schedule comes the threat of the Bucks losing home court advantage. At the season’s halfway point they lead the East by 6 games, and with the way they have played it is hard to see them relinquishing that lead. However, they are only one game ahead of the Lakers in the loss column and that is a team they need to hold off. A Finals game seven in Milwaukee would be a huge advantage compared to playing that game in the Staples Center.


Overall, the Bucks are certainly title favorites as it stands right now. Every championship contender has challenges to overcome, and that’s what makes championship teams so great. As long as Milwaukee keeps playing the way they are, and can compete against the best players and teams in the league at a high level, they should be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the season.