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 first round against the Bulls will go, and how the Milwaukee Bucks will fare overall in its pursuit of a repeat championship.
So...Bucks in Four? or Five? What’s Your prediction in Round One?
Julie: Bucks in 6! Seriously, I don’t see a sweep again, but I hope to be wrong. The Bucks only have three winning streaks of 5 or more this season, and two of them had at least three games against the bottom-feeders in there. I just think that the law of averages gives the Bulls one game, and maybe they give it all game one and then get lucky in game four before we take them seriously and finish them off?
Mitchell: Against Chicago, Bucks in 4. The Bucks have Giannis, and the Bulls have nothing for him. More than just that, Milwaukee boasts a healthy Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez, and Bobby Portis, while Chicago has…a banged-up Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan coming off his best season, and Nikola Vucevic? This Bulls team can’t cash the checks that some of their fans are writing, and when your leading playoff narrative is the postseason showdown between /checks notes Alex Caruso and Grayson Allen? Southeastern Wisconsin appreciates the dollars spent in the hospitality and restaurant industries, Bulls fans.
Morgan: If it were possible, Bucks in 3.
Van: I’ve already gone on public record hemming and hawing about how I think the Bulls will get one, even though I want to say a sweep. Bucks in 5 it is.
Adam: I said Bucks in 5 in my series prediction column, so I oughta stick with that. I can’t see the Bulls getting more than one game.
Gabe: I’m going with Bucks in five. They’ll dominate the series, but I still think the Bulls will sneak out with one victory.
Kyle: Bucks in five and i dont know why we even bother with this series
How do you feel about Milwaukee’s chances to repeat?
Julie: I don’t see an issue with us getting to the Finals. I don’t see an issue with Memphis or Dallas in the Finals, but if Phoenix steamrolls the West like they have all season, then I would say it’s going to be tougher. The Suns are better this season, and I could argue the Bucks appear worse aside from the Big Three. But they’ve been hard to read all season. Let’s see how Round Two goes when we get a real opponent, and then can I re-answer this question?
Mitchell: The Bucks are the safest pick in the whole league to win the 2022 NBA Finals. Exhibit A: they just did it a year ago. Exhibit B: they have almost all of that rotation still on the roster and in similar roles. Exhibit C: no matter what team the Bucks draw, east, west, north, south, and anywhere in between, Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best player on the court. That doesn’t mean the odds are particularly good, it just means that their odds are as high as you can expect. Still, anything short of a return to the Finals would be branded a disappointment, which says a lot about expectations surrounding this team.
Morgan: I feel bullish about their chances to get to the finals. Phoenix will be a tough out and have a chip on their shoulder after last year. But I think they are the most likely candidates, which translates to pretty good odds.
Van: I do foresee another Finals berth. The Bucks aren’t scared of the Nets or Celtics and they needn’t be: one can’t defend them in the slightest and while the other is elite on that end, they can’t stop Giannis even if Robert “Dumbest Nickname Ever Invented By Basketball Nerds On The Internet” Williams is healthy. They’re also not scared of the Heat or Sixers. The Raptors swept them in the regular season and if they face the Bucks... I don’t think the Bucks are scared either. We know what kind of defensive juggernaut this team can become in the playoffs and if they can actually shoot the three alongside that, they can take it home again. I’m scared of the Suns in a Finals rematch... but the Bucks aren’t scared of them!
Adam: I’m heading into this postseason telling myself I’ll be content no matter the outcome, barring an embarrassing sweep at the hands of Boston, Philly or Miami, which seems unlikely. I also understand the difficulty of repeating, particularly for a team that is so prone to cold spells beyond the arc. But I went into last postseason with even more questions about the defense than I have this year, and look what happened. The more I stared at the Eastern Conference, the less likely it seemed someone else was going to knock off the Bucks. I see another Finals berth, with a championship likely unless the opponent is Phoenix, then I’d call it a toss-up or slight edge to the Bucks.
Gabe: I’m growing to be very confident. Prior to Brook Lopez’s return, a lot of questions centered around Milwaukee’s defense. How would they matchup vs. a force like Joel Embiid without him? Ever since he returned, it really does seem like the Bucks team were used to watching. Add in the fact that Lopez has had more time under his belt since he returned earlier than anticipated, things bode even more positively for Milwaukee. I think that the only team that is capable of beating the Bucks is Phoenix.
Kyle: pretty damn good, Phoenix is the only team that truly scares me and can beat the Bucks in a seven game series
What Milwaukee player are you most intrigued to watch this postseason?
Julie: I want to see if Serge Ibaka is still worth anything, but I also am excited to see if Khris has confidence now to take some more clutch shots. Giannis did improve there this season, but I much more trust it in Khris’ hands if we have to shoot a jumper to take the lead or extend the lead late.
Mitchell: A lasting story of Milwaukee’s championship run was how they out-sized the competition with Giannis, Brook Lopez, and Bobby Portis. Brook seems to be back to himself (thank goodness!) but my attention is squarely on the Underdog himself. You’ll recall that Portis was all the way out of the rotation against the Brooklyn Nets, as his defensive deficiencies were too big of a risk. With his marked improvement this year (while admittedly playing different coverages than his pivot-partner Lopez), will Bobby be able to see the floor when the going gets tough? Milwaukee could certainly use his shooting, post-scoring chops, and offensive rebounding ability against a handful of teams.
Morgan: Besides the Godzilla v. Kong clash between George Hill and Jevon Carter, I’ll say Grayson Allen. He’s the new kid on the block, so I’ll be watching whether he can avoid falling prey to the Bucks curse and maybe actually make a three sometimes.
Van: If it’s not a copout, it’s Giannis. Sure, I want to see if Jrue Holiday can put together a better-rounded postseason, but nothing is more compelling to me than seeing if Milwaukee’s all-time leading scorer can find yet another stratosphere to jump into. As we know well by now, the smart money says he will. What does that even look like? How does one improve on a playoff run capped off by a 50-burger in a closeout game of the Finals? If I’m an opponent, I’m quaking in my boots... or I’m ready to just give up and bow to my new Greek overlord.
Adam: I’ll keep the carousel moving here and pick Khris Middleton. What was perceived as a down year wasn’t all that different from years past, with iffier shooting from the midrange buttressed by higher three-point volume and a greater free throw attempt rate. He’s due for clunkers from time to time, but the level to which Milwaukee’s late game offense last year was, “Khris, do something,” is easy to forget. Both Giannis and Jrue seemed more comfortable in the clutch during the regular season, but will Khris be called up on once more this year? And can he deliver at that same level?
Gabe: Jevon Carter. He was one of the best acquisitions in the league this year. Sure, he may not be the flashiest scorer, but the energy he brings is definitely noticeable. I can’t tell you how many times Bud and other players have praised his hustle in postgame media availabilities. That’s the type of determination and firepower you need in the postseason. We saw how Bobby Portis’ antics fueled the Bucks last year and I anticipate Carter will do the same for the Bucks this year.
Kyle: Pat Connaughton pretty much made everyone eat crow last year in the playoffs, especially the finals, so if he can repeat what he did last year then the Bucks bench becomes their biggest asset.
What’s your confidence level in Mike Budenholzer?
Julie: Higher than that of Craig Counsell, Matt LaFleur, Paul Chryst and Greg Gard. I don’t know what that says about him though, I guess confident but not too confident?
Mitchell: “Playoff time, baby!” Coach Bud knows what it takes to get there, both from his time as a Spurs assistant and his remarkably-hot seat on Milwaukee’s bench last season…which led to a particularly joyous championship parade. We’ve seen enough from Bud in the last 12 months to give him the benefit of the doubt…not that every Bucks fan will do so, but that’s where I’m at.
Morgan: Confident but not too confident seems about right. We can rhapsodize about his ability to adapt after stumbling out of the gates in three series last year, or we can admonish him for failing to adequately prepare for Game One. It’s hard to not be glass-half-full after winning a championship, but my confidence in the Bucks starts and ends with the Big Three.
Van: As high as it’s ever been. Never forget that he’s done this before. Similar to last year, he treated the regular season as a lab to perfect defensive looks for the postseason. He learned how to outcoach people we thought were vastly better than him like Erik Spoelstra. The championship pedigree is real: much like the players, he has the je-ne-sais-quoi to do it again after winning it all last year.
Adam: I really do think staring unemployment and your successor straight in the face, WHILE STILL IN THE MIDDLE OF A PLAYOFF SERIES, might’ve jolted old blue eyes (does he have blue eyes?) into a playoff performance style befitting his regular season success. He outcoached the two coaches oft-cited as the best in the league (Monty Williams and Erik Spoelstra) last year, is impeccable at calling timeouts to stop momentum, and has a bevy of defensive coverages to deploy this year. The key will be editing, to his rotation and his strategy, and I think he showed more than enough that I feel confident saying Bud won’t be the reason the Bucks lose.
Gabe: I have no reason to doubt him. He has shown that he knows his guys and won a championship a year ago. The chemistry is top-notch with everyone, and he has shown he’s willing to adapt as necessary.
Kyle: Last year Bud told Peter Feign to calm down, his team to play random and out coached Spo, and Monty Williams. I’m feeling pretty confident in him with the pressure off of him.
Finish this statement: “If the Bucks lose in the Playoffs, it will be because...”
Julie: I just don’t see this team being on a repeat level compared to what the Cavaliers or Warriors or Heat before them had. The Warriors who made five straight Finals never had fewer than 57 wins, and were over 60 the other four seasons. The Bucks hopefully have been tricking us all season, but careless games against teams like Boston (without Tatum) and Portland (with Anfernee Simons and no one else), among others, just make me have a hard time seeing it happen again.
Mitchell: “…it will be because they got beat.” Milwaukee’s strongest opponent is what stares back in the mirror; when they execute to their highest level, no one in the league can compete with them. But other teams can take them out of their zone, which is the sort of thing that a reinvigorated Phoenix Suns is capable of (they retooled their frontcourt after having their depth behind Deandre Ayton exposed in the Finals). I can’t yet say who’s out there that can live up to that standard; we’ll know it when we see it. If we see it.
Morgan: Another team played up a notch and the Bucks played down a notch. It’s that simple. Oh, and shame on Mitchell for suggest that the Suns upgraded their frontcourt depth after they waived Frank the Tank.
Van: They play the Suns in the Finals and/or key players are injured. This team is good enough to overcome logy half-court offense, icy three-point shooting, and opponent flamethrowing from deep (which doesn’t happen nearly as much in the playoffs). The fact that opponents took Milwaukee out of their zone last season but still lost in seven games is reassuring. All that character-building from being down 0-2 twice and needing a Game 7 win on the road to come back from a 3-2 deficit should not be underestimated.
Adam: The defensive question marks we’ve seen all season come home to roost. I feel deeply confident in their drop coverage asserting itself in the postseason, but I’m not sure their switching scheme will have the same level of communication without PJ Tucker out there constantly barking. That stuff is impossible to tell on TV, but they ironed out communication issues in the Playoffs last year.
Gabe: Because they underperformed. When the Bucks are firing on all cylinders, nobody can top them. I could also see injuries plaguing them.
Kyle; They played the Phoenix Suns; Khris and/or Jrue play poorly
Finally, how far do you see this Bucks team going?
Julie: I think if we lose it will be in the second round or the Finals. I don’t see us losing to Philly or Miami, and Toronto won’t beat both of them. Boston and Brooklyn are the two most dangerous teams aside from the Bucks in the East, but I feel like I’ve already been a pessimist and have been nitpicking the Bucks in ways they might not entirely deserve, so I’ll go with the Finals and lose to Phoenix or Golden State (a fully healthy, rolling Golden State) only.
Mitchell: Finals or bust. Just win, baby.
Morgan: Agreed that they’ll make the finals if they step over the tripwire in the second round. It’ll be nice that Boston and Brooklyn will slug it out while we’re in the hot tub, but that also sounds like a recipe to come out cold and squander home-court advantage. Otherwise, the Suns are excellent, and the Grizzlies and Warriors are also threats.
Van: The Finals. Even if they don’t catch any breaks. Once there, they can beat Phoenix again if that’s who they indeed meet. If they do, it will all be because of one man, who we’ll then be talking about as a borderline top ten player ever.
Adam: I’ve got them repeating as Eastern Conference champs, with strong odds in the Finals against most opponents.
Gabe: In our playoff prediction roundtable last year, I predicted that the Bucks would win the Finals. I have the same feeling this season. Like I said, the only team I could see beating the Bucks is Phoenix. I anticipate that they’ll meet again in the Finals and once again, Milwaukee will be NBA champions.
Kyle: A finals rematch with Phoenix that sees it go seven and Water street goes crazy.
Questions for you to answer in the comments!