After a 72 game regular season, more than nine months since the Milwaukee Bucks last faced the Miami Heat with real stakes on the line, the two teams will match up once more. In what’s likely the most intriguing first round matchup on the East side of the bracket, the Bucks are hoping to prove they’ve advanced enough to topple a Heat team that took full advantage of their deficiencies last season. For Miami, they want to make up for a COVID-riddled season and defend their crown as tops in the East.
Where We’re At
The unfortunate part of these team’s matchups this season is that none of them featured the Heat at full strength, missing Jimmy Butler for every tilt. That makes it nigh impossible to decide how those performances could inform what to expect here, but we do have two materially different teams from last postseason.
You all know what the Bucks did after that embarrassing collapse in five games. Swapping Eric Bledsoe for Jrue Holiday, who promptly became their best on-ball defender and hit near 40% from deep. Time to see how that will translate to the postseason. They also overhauled their bench, with Bobby Portis as a new-look big and Bryn Forbes a sharpshooter who isn’t going on 40. PJ Tucker is taking over for Marvin Williams to unlock switchy smallball lineups. Giannis has advanced his game too, and a dunker spot in the offense could alleviate issues he had with Miami’s wall last postseason.
For the Heat, they’re missing Jae Crowder, using the aged Trevor Ariza as his replacement. He doesn’t have the strength to consistently hang with Giannis down low, so I’m curious who will start out on Milwaukee’s MVP. Role players like Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson and Goran Dragic also haven’t performed at the level of last year. They’ll need to if Miami wants to overtake this Bucks team. Dragic has felt like a Bucks killer for years, and he will be a stellar test for how Bud handles his zone drop defense after Dragic uses his killer floater. This should be an interesting matchup for Playoff refereeing too, with the Bucks fouling the least in the whole NBA and Miami top-ten in terms of free throw rate.
Rarely do we get such a direct test, this early, of whether Bud’s adjustments and Horst’s offseason moves will pay off against the very opponent that spurred them in the first place. Let’s strap in.
On the injury front, Thanasis Antetokounmpo is out for the foreseeable future with an avulsion fracture, and Jeff Teague is probable with left knee soreness.
For more analysis and predictions, make sure to check out our roundtable too.
Player to Watch
I had him last time the Heat and Bucks matched up, but he wound up being a late scratch. The player has to be Jimmy Butler, who we still haven’t seen face the Bucks and was the driving factor behind Milwaukee’s early exit last offseason. I wanna see how Jrue Holiday matches up if he gets the first call defensively, whether Bud matches minutes with anyone specifically on Jimmy and how much Butler will play after an injured season. He also was surprisingly good from deep when he needed to be last year. I’m curious if that luck will continue in Fiserv Forum complete with half-capacity fans.
Game One: Against Miami, the Bucks will...
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Win big (by 10 or more points)
Win close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose big (by 10 or more points)
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