Bucks vs. Heat 2020 Playoff Preview: Milwaukee’s worst nightmare?

Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo is fouled by Miami Heat's Bam Adebayo. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

After a predictable first round in the NBA’s Eastern Conference playoffs, we’re set for what appears to be two entertaining semifinal matchups.

The Milwaukee Bucks dropped Game 1 of their opening series to the Orlando Magic, but avoided any further embarrassment and won four straight to cruise into Round 2.

There they will meet the Miami Heat, who swept aside the Indiana Pacers in their first-round matchup. Anchored by Jimmy Butler, the gritty Heat are well-suited to give the top-seeded Bucks a real run for their money.

Miami is equipped with a number of strong individual defenders, and plays good overall team defence under standout coach Erik Spoelstra. Butler is a legitimate big-game performer and could steal a game almost single-handedly.

The Bucks wasted away a 2-0 lead over the Toronto Raptors in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, and run the risk of another disappointing post-season exit in 2020. Here’s a closer look at what should be a tightly-contested series.

Regular-season review: Heat won series 2-1

No team gave the Bucks more trouble in the regular season than the Heat. Miami was the first team to defeat Milwaukee twice, which is made all the more impressive by the fact that Butler only suited up in one of those contests.

The two Miami victories were polar opposites, with the first being a gutsy come-from-behind overtime win in late October and the second a blowout in March. Milwaukee walked away with the win when these teams clashed in the Disney bubble on Aug. 6, erasing a 23-point deficit in the process.

If there is a podcasting odd couple, this might be it. Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis don’t agree on much, but you’ll agree this is the best Toronto Raptors podcast going.

Key matchup: Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. Bam Adebayo

While there’s no way of truly stopping the Greek Freak, but the Heat are one of the few teams in the NBA that might be able to limit the damage.

Adebayo enjoyed a breakout season in 2019-20, earning his first all-star selection. He averaged a double-double for the year, but it’s on defence where he’ll be a difference-maker in this series. The 23-year-old — who finished fifth in Defensive Player of the Year voting — has the size and athleticism to be able to disrupt Antetokounmpo.

When the two were matched up with one another in the regular season, Adebayo held Antetokounmpo to 12-of-28 shooting (42.9 per cent) and five free-throws, per NBA.com. Only four players league-wide saw more minutes guarding the likely back-to-back MVP.

Of course, expecting Adebayo to be able to single-handedly shut down Antetokounmpo is unreasonable, no matter how capable a defender he is, so expect Spoelstra to throw a number of different bodies his way. Attempting to limit his fast-break chances will be crucial as the 25-year-old thrives in transition, leading the league with 8.3 points per game in those instances. Again, that’s much easier said than done.

Honourable mention: Jimmy Butler vs. Khris Middleton

This series features another intriguing matchup between all-stars in Butler and Middleton. Whereas the former seems to thrive in high-pressure situations, the latter has seen his production dip and his shooting percentages plummet over the past two playoffs. The Bucks need a strong showing from Middleton to ease some of the load on Antetokounmpo.

X-factors

Miami: Goran Dragic

The veteran Dragic came off the Heat bench for most of the season, but started all four games against the Pacers. He was the model of consistency in that series, scoring 24, 20, 24 and 23 points.

Milwaukee finished third in the NBA this season in three-pointers made per game, but Miami finished second in three-point percentage. Perimeter shooting will be a major factor in this series and Dragic is someone who can catch fire from beyond the arc. He’s also shown the ability to score in the clutch, ranking third in the playoffs in fourth-quarter scoring.

The 34-year-old is a free agent at the end of the season and is watching the value of his next contract rise with every big post-season performance.

Milwaukee: Eric Bledsoe

Much like Middleton, Bledsoe has been a disappointment in previous playoff runs. The guard is capable of igniting an offence when he’s firing on all cylinders, but that hasn’t been the case in his post-season career, averaging just 11 points per game on an ugly 25.8 per cent mark from three-point range.

Bledsoe showed some signs of life in the first round against Orlando, but had another inconsistent series. The talent is there, and when he’s playing to his potential he’s another potent offensive threat behind Antetokounmpo and Middleton.

Milwaukee invested heavily in the 30-year old in 2019, handing him a four-year, $70-million extension. He needs to start stepping up his playoff output in order to live up to that contract and start changing his narrative.

Prediction

Bucks in six.

Miami is certainly good enough to put a true scare into Giannis and Co., but Antetokounmpo has something to prove after last year’s disappointment and will carry his squad back to the East Finals.

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