Welcome back to yet another year of the Brew Hoop Round Table, where we ask that everybody use coasters and please don’t feed the aging pugs from the table, thanks. Today, we’re staring into our crystal ball and predicting how the Heat series will go, and how Milwaukee will fare in the NBA Playoffs overall.
Let’s start with the first round matchup…who will be the best player in the series?
Mitchell: If the answer is anybody other than Giannis Antetokounmpo, then the Bucks will not win the series. Milwaukee’s championship hopes are riding on a number of things going their way, but by far the biggest component of their success is his ability to rise to the occasion and demonstrate that he’s the best player on the floor, night in and night out. The only player on both the Bucks and Heat in the MVP conversation this year is Giannis. He must be at his best, or Milwaukee is in massive trouble.
Kyle: It HAS to be Giannis he simply cannot be outplayed by anyone this series. He has shown better patience and decision making this year than in the past but things will change when Spo has a chance to specifically game plan for him.
Van: We all want it to be Giannis. If it’s Jimmy Butler again like it was in the bubble, the Bucks could still win, but that means Holiday, Middleton, and Lopez need to outplay all of Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic, and Duncan Robinson. Plus Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, and anyone else. That’s a tall ask. Giannis hasn’t really had a playoff series where he dominated start to finish (I’m not counting the Orlando or Detroit series) and if the Bucks are to win a title, that has to change. He’s more motivated than ever against Miami so I’ll say he’ll be the guy, but he needs to play much smarter than last year in order to beat them.
Adam: Like my colleagues, I’ll go with Giannis too, although I considered Jrue Holiday. If he guards Jimmy, he’ll have the most opportunity for immediate impact defensively and averaging around 20 points per with decent assists could vault him past Giannis. BUT, it’s gotta be Giannis if Milwaukee wants to win. He’ll need to function as a hellacious help side defender, and capably communicate and handle switches on the perimeter. He’ll be the focal point of small ball lineups that Bud will inevitably have to employ against Miami’s personnel and he needs to own those minutes even with Bam at the rim. As Giannis goes, this Bucks team goes.
Andrew: Yeah, if Giannis Antetokounmpo is not the best player in the series, it will not bode well for the Milwaukee Bucks. However, I am VERY optimistic that Antetokounmpo will be more successful against Miami this time around. Losing Jae Crowder is big for the Heat and he did an admirable job at defending Giannis at times last postseason. Swapping him for a 35 year old Trevor Arizona is certainly no upgrade imo/
Gabe: Yeah, I’m going to agree with everyone else here. It’s definitely going to be Giannis. He (should hopefully) be fully rested and in playoff mode. Jimmy Butler could ignite and go off in some games, but ultimately, I’m going to go with Giannis.
Riley: ...it’ll probably end up being Jimmy Butler, right? Much as I appreciate Giannis’s growth as a player this past year, the only real evidence we have to go off of lies in past post-season appearances where he’s been good-not-great-and-certainly-not-best-in-the-series. Jimmy carved us up a year ago, so I’m bracing myself for a repeat (pending Holiday’s defense keeping him in check).
Who will be the biggest x-factor for Milwaukee outside of the Big Three?
Mitchell: Bobby Portis is the role player I’m most interested in; he’s the only reserve frontcourt player who has a definite role on offense, and Portis has had an underwhelming impact in most of Milwaukee’s games against quality opposition, and “quality opposition” is the only item on the menu for the Bucks from here on out. If Portis is able to fuel Milwaukee’s scoring with his feathery touch inside, his above-the-break accuracy, and his relentless transition pressure, the Bucks will have much more breathing room.
Kyle: I said it on the pod, which you should listen to, but I’m saying Donte DiVincenzo. He has gone through a slump and you hope he snaps out of it come playing time. But Donte still shot 37.9% from three and his ability to crash for rebounds and cut off the ball will be needed for the Bucks. Defensively he has to prevent overhelping which could leave Kendrick Nunn or Duncan Robinson open but his ability to jump passing lanes can get Milwaukee going in transition which they would prefer.
Van: Brook Lopez had an excellent series last year in the bubble. He’s become one of Milwaukee’s most reliable scorers in the second half, particularly inside ten feet where he can draw on a big arsenal of floaters, flip shots, and hooks that are all money, even when he’s putting them up in traffic. Miami is smaller this year inside without Olynyk and Leonard, so Adebayo is the only Heat player who could deal with Lopez. If they want Adebayo to contend with Giannis most often, Lopez would enjoy tasty mismatches with smaller defenders like Trevor Ariza or inferior ones like Nemanja Bjelica or Dewayne Dedmon.
Adam: For the sake of diversity, I’ll go with Bryn Forbes. The sharpshooter has been money from deep all season, but the question marks about him defensively have remained. Not in terms of effort, but namely his physical deficiencies, which are something Spo will have his Heat team acutely ready to key in on. He’s the kind of player who can get hot enough that he’ll propel an 11-2 or 10-0 run in a few minutes, which the Bucks will sorely need if they ever fall behind against a slow-paced Miami squad. Can he deliver enough firepower to offset his defensive liabilities? This will be a great litmus test.
Andrew: Bobby Portis and Bryn Forbes are both equally as important here. Both ended the regular with some of the best three-point percentages in all of the NBA. In order to be effective against a well-disciplined Heat defense, you must make them pay from deep. Having Jrue Holiday and the dunker spot working in their favor, there will be more open looks from deep this season compared to last. The upgrade in talent/shooting compared to last year cannot be understated. They went from Kyle Korver to both Portis and Forbes which might be some of the best value signings they’ve made in franchise history.
Gabe: Bryn Forbes has shown that he can provide a spark off the bench so many times this season. It seems like he made a mention in every piece I wrote for game coverage this year. Giannis even went as far as saying he’s probably the best shooter he’s ever played with. That type of sharpshooting will be appreciated in the playoffs, and I fully anticipate Forbes to connect on some timely shots during this series.
Riley: PJ Tucker, I hope. With Thanasis likely out for the foreseeable future, those backup forward minutes are going to be all his to play. While he need not be a statistical monster, it’d be ideal if he gives us an immediate payoff by doing all the little things in big ways in our “revenge” series: hitting threes, aiding switch defenses, and unlocking small-ball as a viable tool.
What is your prediction for the Heat series?
Mitchell: Bucks in 5. My optimism is well-documented, but I think it goes beyond a simple “lessons learned” from last year. Jrue Holiday is not Eric Bledsoe, and Trevor Ariza is not Jae Crowder. Milwaukee has renovated the talent on their roster while Miami essentially painted and decluttered. They still have Erik Spoelstra, Jimmy Butler, and Bam Adebayo, but the absence of the weird-as-hell bubble dynamic that fueled their NBA Finals run last year makes the Heat feel much more mortal.
Kyle: Bucks in 6. I’m not trying to be cliche but the Bucks made the upgrades they needed. They made adjustments like switching, Bud likely learned his lessons and will play his best players more minutes. That plus playing in front of fans in Fiserv Forum compared to a bubble in Disney World should give Milwaukee the boost they need.
Van: Bucks in 7. This has nothing to do with what happened in the bubble, but I don’t think we can just write off Miami. They had the league’s best record since April 15th, are 33-19 with Jimmy Butler (who missed all three matchups with Milwaukee this season), have some great shooters on their roster, and have a definite coaching edge. The Bucks are better equipped to deal with the Heat than last season and I don’t think they’re underestimating how good Miami is, but I worry some fans are. Won’t be surprised if this goes 7 games.
Adam: I’m with Van. Part of me says that if this goes 7 games, enough has already gone wrong enough that I’m not sure Bud and the Bucks can overcome. But ultimately, I see Miami as inferior from a personnel standpoint compared to last year and the Bucks have improved. Jrue Holiday can capably guard Butler, and provide scoring on the other end. Lopez has always been consistently good in the Playoffs, and Giannis has a few more tricks in his toolbox. I can see Spoelstra helping them win one game, Butler winning another and some combination of a Dragic flamethrower performance or Bam Adebayo midrange/floater extravaganza that gets another. In the end though, Milwaukee is more potent than last year and will find a way to eke it out in 7.
Andrew: I have Bucks in five games and I believe the Heat will actually take game one a la Boston Celtics a few years ago. I do believe this series will be tightly contested and most games will be decided by single-digits. However, this season’s Bucks team is built to go up against the personnel of the Heat. Last year? Not so much. We won’t have to worry about being torched by Goran Dragic and getting zero to no production from our starting point guard. Having a one that can lock down opposing players and consistently hit jumpers is what this Bucks team so desperately missed. The Bucks did not forget about last year...
Gabe: I’m anticipating Bucks in 6. I can see them faltering in Saturday’s game due to it being an afternoon tip-off, and then Miami winning a game on their homecourt. However, in the end, I think the Bucks have enough to overcome the Heat and win it in six.
Riley: It wouldn’t be a Bucks blog if we didn’t all put on our homer-caps and pick the home team. I’ll say Bucks in 5, a pick fueled in part by the fact that we don’t have 10 bad bubble games and a lackadaisical series against the Orlando Magic to sour the mood.
More broadly, do you feel more, less, or the same amount of confidence in the Bucks entering this postseason vs. the last two?
Mitchell: I feel far more confident in the Bucks this postseason. Perhaps it’s hubris, perhaps it’s naïveté, but I am not expecting the same type of cold spells on offense that we saw against the Raptor and Heat defenses of yesteryear. Part of that is Jrue Holiday, part of that is Bryn and Bobby, and part of that is Giannis’ maturation as a player. The other questions about PJ Tucker’s remaining playoff-level impact, the defensive lapses, and Mike Budenholzer’s control over his innate “stay the course” tendencies all remain...but they can only be answered in the postseason.
Kyle: Less confident. Not because I don’t think the Bucks are bad, the last two postseasons I thought this team should make the finals and potentially win it. This year I’m thinking maybe they make the finals. This year’s team is better than last year but improved rivals and general uneasiness about Budenholzer give me a pause.
Van: Less confident, but not because the team is necessarily worse. Last year, I was probably overconfident. The year before, I entered underconfident because it wasn’t until they started beating up on Boston where I believed they had a real shot. This year, I just think their path to the Finals is too hard through Miami, Brooklyn, and Philly. If they won more regular-season games and secured the number one seed, I’d feel differently.
Adam: Less confident than two years ago, more confident than last year. The bubble wrecked any good vibes last year’s team had, and they never looked the same after a layoff. Two years ago, I really felt the Bucks could make it to the Finals with how well they were humming. That felt like something special. I’m not sure I feel the same level of continuity and belief in this team. Maybe it’s the sheer amount of roster turnover, but even with improved personnel, I’m concerned their defense isn’t clicking at the level it needs to be to ultimately advance deep into the Playoffs. Hopefully I’m proven wrong, but that combined with the far more difficult path has me a bit less confident than Bud’s first year.
Andrew: I believe there is more confidence going into this postseason than prior. Last two years the Bucks sort of waltzed their way into the postseason by beating teams the same way and also getting beat the same way. This season coach Mike Budenholzer has experimented both offensively and defensively which has made the Bucks a little more mysterious on both ends of the floor. It looks like the Bucks will end up switching a decent amount this postseason (or so I hope) and they finally have the personnel to do so. We did not see any form of adjustments made the last two years which is why I am cautiously optimistic for the playoffs to start.
Gabe: Oddly, more confidence. The last two seasons, the spotlight was solely on the Bucks, and I think it’s clear that they didn’t thrive under that. This season looking at the east, that falls on the shoulders of Philadelphia and Brooklyn. I think that the Bucks will take advantage of that and capitalize on it throughout the playoffs.
Riley: Probably about the same. It felt like we had the personnel to win it all the past two years (thanks, Giannis!) and the big three * should * be better this time around. However, outside of some isolated stretches this season there was never a time where you sat back and thought, “wow, we’re absolutely dominating”. I reckon it’ll be a near run thing most every night.
Finally, how far do you see this Bucks team going this year?
Mitchell: The sky is the limit for Milwaukee. They absolutely can reach the NBA Finals, and even win that series. Miami is their first test; if they can withstand the Brooklyn barrage after that, I see no reason they can’t make it to the championship round.
Kyle: I think Milwaukee does get past Miami and if they can keep up with Brooklyn’s firepower, then they will make the finals. Unfortunately, I’m not sure they will so a second round exit in seven games seems likely.
Van: I can see them beating Miami and I could see them beating Philly if they get that chance. Sadly, I think the only way they can get past Brooklyn is if the Nets go multiple games without one of James Harden or Kevin Durant. If they’re healthy, that offense is just too good and no matter how poorly they defend Milwaukee, I think they’ll prevail. The Bucks’ defense certainly did not improve this season, but I don’t know that any team can stop that juggernaut, so I’ll say a second-round loss in six games.
Adam: I seem to be in lockstep with Van on a lot of these questions. I also am doubtful that the Bucks can keep up with Brooklyn’s scoring output, even if Giannis has a monster series, which the Nets are clearly comfortable with. I’ve got them bowing out to Brooklyn in six games.
Andrew: The Bucks can make it to the Finals, for sure. However, Milwaukee’s biggest foe is themselves as we have seen them beat themselves countless times. If the Bucks can avoid making mental lapses, they can win it all.
Riley: (I moved myself up here so that Gabe could end on a high note) We’ll probably lose in five to the Nets. No shame in that, though it’ll be infinitely annoying.
Gabe: I just have a special feeling about this team, and my fellow writers can attest that I’ve said that I think the Bucks are going to win it all not once, but twice in the BH Staff group DM on Twitter. I’m going to keep that prediction and say the Bucks win their first NBA title since 1971.