What to know about Heat vs. Bucks
The top three seeds in the Eastern Conference went a combined 12-1 in the first round of the 2020 NBA playoffs. The Bucks, who finished with the best regular-season record in the NBA (56-17), were responsible for the only loss. Go figure.
As for the lone “upset” in the East, the No. 5 Heat swept the No. 4 Pacers off the floor. Indiana was missing All-Star big man Domantas Sabonis, but Miami dominated the series, winning each game by at least nine points.
Milwaukee has consistently been considered the favorite to come out of the conference, but Miami has found success against the Bucks before. The Heat won two of the three regular-season matchups, including an impressive 105-89 victory on March 2.
“The Heat, they’re a team that plays hard,” Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo said after that game. “It’s not just hard for me, it’s hard for everybody. They just move the ball so much, they move their bodies, they just play hard.”
Antetokounmpo and the Bucks know they can’t afford to come out with middling intensity. They dropped their first playoff game against the Magic, but Orlando simply didn’t have enough talent and depth to truly challenge Milwaukee. This Miami team does.
The key matchup
Bam Adebayo vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Let’s be clear: There is no such thing as a true “Giannis stopper.” No one man can stop the reigning NBA MVP, the same way no one man can stop LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden or any of the other elite offensive players in the league.
However, some defenders are well-equipped to at least slow certain stars down. Hello, Mr. Adebayo.
According to NBA.com matchup data — which admittedly can be a bit flawed — only four other players faced Antetokounmpo more frequently than Adebayo during the regular season. Adebayo limited Antetokounmpo to 12-of-28 shooting from the field (42.9 percent) and only five free throw attempts over three games.
One factor in Adebayo’s success is not being overwhelmed by Antetokounmpo’s physicality and athleticism. In the isolation play below, Adebayo (6-9, 255 pounds) sticks with Antetokounmpo (6-11, 242 pounds) on his first step. When Antetokounmpo resets and attempts to drive baseline again, he can’t burrow into Adebayo’s chest and finish at the rim like he so often does against weaker opponents. Adebayo stands firm, and the result is a turnover.
But it’s not just about individual defense in halfcourt settings. Antetokounmpo averaged 8.3 points per game in transition during the regular season, the highest mark in the NBA. When “The Greek Freak” gets moving downhill, even the league’s best defenders can end up looking like matadors.
To put everything on Adebayo in these situations is unreasonable. Antetokounmpo needs to see multiple bodies.
On this possession, notice the three-man wall in front of Antetokounmpo. Adebayo, Goran Dragic and Duncan Robinson are cutting off all available lanes to the basket, and Jimmy Butler also has his eyes on the ball.
Antetokounmpo will score his points. The key is making him work and not allowing him to reach the paint with little resistance.
The big number
Milwaukee opponents took 24.2 shots per game in the restricted area during the regular season, the lowest figure in the NBA, and they hit 55.2 percent of those shots, also the lowest figure in the NBA. The Bucks have turned the paint into a no-fly zone.
Will Mike Budenholzer’s strategy work against the Heat, though? Miami took the second-lowest number of attempts in the restricted area (24.9) and launched 35.4 3-pointers per game, hitting on 37.9 percent from deep. Those numbers didn’t change much in the first round (33.3 attempts, 39.1 percent).
The question is whether guys like Dragic, Robinson, Jae Crowder, Tyler Herro and Kelly Olynyk can hit open and semi-contested looks — because they will be there.
The Bucks do a tremendous job of eliminating dunks and layups. Can the Heat’s shooters force Budenholzer to make an early adjustment?
Heat vs. Bucks schedule
|Date||Game||Time (ET)||National TV|
|Aug. 31||Game 1||6:30 p.m.||TNT|
|Sept. 2||Game 2||TBD||TBD|
|Sept. 4||Game 3||TBD||TBD|
|Sept. 6||Game 4||TBD||TBD|
|Sept. 8||Game 5*||TBD||TBD|
|Sept. 10||Game 6*||TBD||TBD|
|Sept. 12||Game 7*||TBD||TBD|
Heat vs. Bucks prediction
Bucks in six
Miami knows it can beat Milwaukee. The Heat are well-coached, always play hard and come into this series with confidence after an impressive sweep.
Still, the Bucks are the pick here. Antetokounmpo won’t let this be a repeat of what happened against Leonard and the Raptors in last year’s conference finals, and Milwaukee’s length on defense will give the Heat problems.