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NBA Playoffs: Who should the Bucks want to face?

The Bucks clinched a playoff spot, who is their ideal draw?

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Burn your lottery tickets folks, it’s playoffs time! After a one-year hiatus, the Milwaukee Bucks will officially return to the NBA playoffs this year after clinching a spot with their win over the Philadelphia Sixers Saturday night. What does that mean for the Bucks’ potential contender in the first round? With the Eastern Conference’s standings still fluid, there’s no way to know exactly who Milwaukee will draw. So, let’s take a look at the four possibilities and determine who might be the optimum opponent among the Cavaliers, Celtics, Wizards and Raptors.

We’ll provide a brief statistical capsule of each team, and go through several different categories in regards to how they might match up with Milwaukee.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Record vs. MIL Off. Rating (rank) Def. Rating (rank) Pace (rank) All-Stars
Record vs. MIL Off. Rating (rank) Def. Rating (rank) Pace (rank) All-Stars
3-1 111.1 (3rd) 107.9 (21st) 98.38 (16th) Lebron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love

Previously on Bucks-Cavaliers: After Milwaukee took the first game this season, 118-101, Lebron James seemed to take direct offense to the Bucks’ getting up to play the defending champs. Milwaukee lost the next three contests, although they took one to OT, and never found themselves blown out too considerably. Playoff Cavs are probably an entirely different animal though, as they’ve shown the last two years.

Recent Playoff History: Not sure if you heard but the Cavaliers wiped out a 3-1 deficit against the Golden State Warriors last year to win the NBA championship.

Key Question: Is Cleveland’s defense ready for the postseason? Should Milwaukee draw Cleveland, the biggest question will surround Cleveland’s defensive aptitude. Much has been made of their swoon late in the season (they’re second to last in defensive rating since the ASB), and this first series should be a good test whether that on/off switch is still working properly. Giannis should be willing to attack Cleveland’s interior at all times, but particularly when the Cavs go small with Channing Frye. Milwaukee has the athletes to potentially keep up with their balletic ball movement, and Thon actually provides a decent foil to Frye’s rangy game.

Potential Giannis Stopper: Lebron. For obvious reasons. Whether Cleveland decides to put him on Giannis and potentially tire their offensive engine on the defensive end is another question.

Boston Celtics

Record vs. MIL Off. Rating (rank) Def. Rating (rank) Pace (rank) All-Stars
Record vs. MIL Off. Rating (rank) Def. Rating (rank) Pace (rank) All-Stars
1-1 108.5 (9th) 105.7 (12th) 99.24 (12th) Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford

Previously on Bucks-Celtics: Malcolm Brogdon decimated the Celtics late with a bevy of clutch shots and dishes down the stretch in the dramatic 103-100 victory in late March. Before that, Milwaukee narrowly lost a 112-108 overtime game in Milwaukee when Isaiah Thomas went off for 37 points. The final game of the series is both team’s final game of the season on April 12.

Recent Playoff History: The Celtics’ current iteration under Brad Stevens has made the playoffs the last two years, although they were considered more scrappy underdogs than real contenders. In 2014-15, they were promptly swept by the Cavaliers, their lasting memory being Kelly Olynyk tearing Kevin Love’s arm off like a Wookie. In 2015-16, they went down 4-2 to an underwhelming Hawks squad who couldn’t capture the magic of their previous campaign.

Key Question: Is Boston just a regular season team? Boston’s looked overmatched in the playoffs the last two years as a team lacking the requisite star power generally needed to compete in the postseason. Isaiah Thomas has been a vastly superior player this entire year though, thrusting himself into a fringe MVP candidate. Whether he can keep that up in the postseason, and how their guard rotation of Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley holds up will be integral to their success or failure.

Potential Giannis Stopper: Jae Crowder. Crowder is fashioned from a similar mold as P.J. Tucker, a stout forward with enough foot speed that Giannis can’t fly by off the dribble. No one has a chance against him in transition, but Giannis has been deterred by speedier defenders like Crowder or Dion Waiters. Crowder doesn’t have the length to stop Giannis in the post, but he can try to prevent him from backing down for some of patient slams in the paint.

Washington Wizards

Record vs. MIL Off. Rating (rank) Def. Rating (rank) Pace (rank) All-Stars
Record vs. MIL Off. Rating (rank) Def. Rating (rank) Pace (rank) All-Stars
3-1 108.5 (8th) 106.9 (20th) 99.71 (11th) John Wall

Previously on Bucks-Wizards: Milwaukee’s combined deficit in their three losses to Washington (16) is less than the amount they beat the Wizards by in their lone win (27). Following that 123-96 stomping in the BMO, Milwaukee coughed up a victory the next week in Washington as the Wizards came back from 10 down in the fourth. The Bucks also lost 110-105 earlier in the season with the Wiz using an 11-0 run late in the game to seal another win. The Wizard’s last win came with Giannis sitting out sick and they only won by six. Besides the blowout, every one of these games could’ve bounced either way.

Recent Playoff History: The Wiz missed the playoffs last year after two consecutive seasons in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The latest in 2014-15 featured a tidy sweep of Toronto in the first round before falling to the Hawks 4-2 after John Wall missed three of the series’ games. Bradley Beal was inhuman that series though, averaging 25.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, five assists and 1.7 steals.

Key Question: Is there anyone who can slow down John Wall? Wall is one of the fastest players in the NBA. Speedy isn’t exactly the word I would use to describe Milwaukee’s point guards. Tony Snell will probably get to try his hand at stopping Wall, but he’s not nearly the athlete that Wall is. Milwaukee’s ability to keep him from pushing the pace and finding open shooters in transition will be a key component to whether they can contain the Wizards. Bonus Question: Will the BMO’s roof stay on when Playoff Brandon Jennings goes off? No.

Potential Giannis Stopper: Markieff Morris? More than any of these other teams the Wizards are lacking the type of frontcourt defender capable of stopping Giannis. Morris is no match for him, so they may try to put Kelly Oubre Jr. on him to stifle him with some athleticism.

Toronto Raptors

Record vs. MIL Off. Rating (rank) Def. Rating (rank) Pace (rank) All-Stars
Record vs. MIL Off. Rating (rank) Def. Rating (rank) Pace (rank) All-Stars
3-1 109.7 (6th) 105.0 (8th) 97.24 (22nd) Kyle Lowry, Demar DeRozan

Previously on Bucks-Raptors: Depression. After a narrow six-point loss to start the season, Milwaukee dropped the next two games by 22 and 16 points respectively. They finally bested the Raptors in early March 101-94 behind 24 points from Khris Middleton, but the Raptors were without Kyle Lowry. The Raptors won all four of their games last year too.

Recent Playoff History: After first-round exits the two years prior, Toronto finally broke through last year to the Conference Finals, leaving Milwaukee with the auspicious record of the longest time without advancing past the first round. It was a rough ride though, with the Raptors barely beating the Pacers initially and then winning a war of attrition against a Heat squad missing Hassan Whiteside for four of the games. They took two games from Cleveland in the Conference Finals, but Lebron seemed to pay them as much attention as a fly on his shoulder.

Key Question: How close to 100% will Kyle Lowry be? Lowry’s returning from an injury, and came back for just the final few games of Toronto’s season. They’re not nearly as potent without the All-Star guard, and he’s murdered Milwaukee with clutch jumpers the past few seasons. Not to mention his easy penetration past the Bucks’ suspect defense. If he’s going full-stop for four games, Toronto is probably the worst matchup besides Cleveland in this whole bunch.

Potential Giannis Stopper: P.J. Tucker. Toronto’s long slaughtered the Bucks with a backcourt whose shot charts against Milwaukee look like greener than a springtime prairie. However, even with the stout Patrick Patterson, they never had a frontcourt rotation with the versatility as Tucker-Patterson-Ibaka. Ibaka doesn’t have the foot speed to keep up with Giannis, but Tucker is built like a bulldog, with a low center of gravity to contain Giannis off the bounce and do battle in the post.

In my view, the best Bucks matchups probably go Boston, Washington, Toronto, then Cleveland. Cleveland’s advantages are obvious, and Toronto with Lowry plus a souped up frontcourt that’s bolstered their defense is something I’d much rather avoid. Which leaves us with Boston or Washington. I think Milwaukee still has the best player in both those series, but I’m more wary of trying to keep up with John Wall and Bradley Beal, who’s been awesome this year and came alive in previous playoff performances. Therefore, I’m probably leaning towards Boston as the best matchup, but it’s close between them and Washington. We also have the smallest sample size against Boston to draw from though, and a recent win potentially buoying my optimism. However it shakes out, talking playoffs is a lot more fun than talking about 12-14 in the lottery.

Let us know who you want the Bucks to face in the poll and comments below.


Who is your ideal matchup for Milwaukee in the NBA Playoffs?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Cleveland Cavaliers
    (58 votes)
  • 37%
    Boston Celtics
    (599 votes)
  • 46%
    Washington Wizards
    (754 votes)
  • 12%
    Toronto Raptors
    (206 votes)
1617 votes total Vote Now