We’ve finally arrived at the NBA Playoffs, the games where the stakes are no longer made up and the points do matter. The Milwaukee Bucks tip off their first round series against the Orlando Magic at the ungodly hour of 12:30 central, meaning the usual afternoon malaise that seems to haunt this team will hopefully disappear given the utmost importance of each W from here on out. The quest for 16 wins starts here.
Going 3-5 in the seeding games caused plenty of consternation for Bucks fans, as their team generally sputtered throughout each and every game. It wasn’t as much the record though, given three of their five losses were within four points, so much as it was the uneven play of almost everyone not named Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez or Khris Middleton. Bud seemed content post-locking up the one seed to mess around with lineups, give key players breaks and generally get weird with his gameplans. As such, that led to some fitting stinkers, but expect to see all the core players ramp up their minute loads for this one. I’ll be curious to see how deep of a bench Bud goes to for this one, absent a complete blowout. Milwaukee blanked the Magic all season, going 4-0. Let’s hope that trend continues.
Ersan Ilyasova is the only listed injured Buck and is out with a left elbow sprain.
Player to Watch: Eric Bledsoe
Bledsoe had the excuse of COVID-19 (a quite valid one at that) to alleviate concerns regarding his play in the seeding games. However, there’s no more time to get comfortable with your teammates anymore, every contest matters from here on out. This first round is the closest Bledsoe will get to a warm-up round, so here’s hoping his Playoff jitters recede into the backdrop against the Magic.
Orlando went 3-5 in the bubble, same as Milwaukee, with two early wins before dropping five straight and notching a W in the final game. They lost their stud, Jonathan Isaac, after he had returned from injury, sending their rotation into a state of disarray. With their frontcourt already smarting, it didn’t help that Al-Farouq Aminu isn’t available as a potential defender, and now Aaron Gordon is even listed as questionable with a left hamstring strain. If Gordon can’t go, the Magic have really no capable defenders to keep Giannis from wrecking shop down low. The Magic have ended the year as a middling offensive team whose discipline from Coach Steve Clifford resulted in a top-ten defensive team. If you’re looking for a more robust breakdown of the matchup, check out my four factors to watch piece from yesterday.
In total, the Magic injury report is listed as Mo Bamba and Jonathan Isaac out, Michael Carter-Williams doubtful and Aaron Gordon as questionable.
Player to Watch: Evan Fournier
The French wing will try to go toe-to-toe with Khris Middleton in this series, although I give the healthy advantage to the Bucks in that regard. This year, Fournier is averaging 18.5 points per game on nearly 40% from deep. He looms as the Magic player (alongside bane of Bucks fans’ existence Terrence Ross) most capable of doing damage from deep in a debilitating way. If the triples start to fall, the Bucks will have to stay calm and trust the math on their side. Fournier offers both on-ball and off-ball skills worth tracking.