Bucks Lead

Analyzing the Bucks’ Potential Playoff Matchups in Orlando

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At Milwaukee’s Potawatomi casino, numerous gamblers, after seeing black three turns in a row, bet it all because “the next one must be red!” Well, by that reasoning, because the Bucks haven’t won the East since joining in 1980, they’re due!

Unfortunately, while basketballs bounce too, our game involves much skill. The 2020 Bucks are very talented, but can’t advance to the finals with mere luck. Only by scrutinizing their eight potential Eastern opponents can Milwaukee ensure possession of the coveted jackpot.

Potential 1 vs. 8: Washington Wizards

Washington stands five and a half games back of #8 Orlando. They must close within four in their next eight games to force a play-in. The Wizards had a strong run in the last half of the 2010s. The 2017 team finished a game short of the East finals, and even the 2018 eight seed commanded respect and two wins from the Raptors. However, with John Wall officially not traveling to Disney, Washington is in an unfortunate situation. They’ve committed way too much ($170 million) to the injured magician and would need to battle just to force the play-in. Meanwhile, Milwaukee can easily coast to the top seed. With limited time between the play-in and first round, and few off-days in August, the deer needn’t worry about a fake Walmart wand.

Potential 1 vs. 8: Orlando Magic

In their last meeting, Milwaukee quickly debunked the Magic hoax. To be fair, their fringe-playoff positioning is a tremendous improvement over years of pitiable play. Still, at 30-35, they would be a typically underperforming East eight seed. Fans laud Markelle Fultz’s development, but his season  +/- of -.8 reveals the limitation of this praise. (Compare that stat to Giannis’s +11.4). Barring catastrophic injury, usually, East 8s only compete if the one is an overachieving pretender (like the 2015 Hawks). With eight games to refocus, the Bucks have ample time to study the fossil records.

Potential 1 vs. 8: Brooklyn Nets

The NBA has over a month to discuss Kyrie’s concerns about the bubble, and the Nets will arrive ready to go. The 2020 Nets have stars KD and Irving on the roster, but it is unlikely that either of them will play. The Nets are a scrappy young team otherwise, and have transitioned to Dubs-style shooting. Fortunately for the Bucks, though, Coach Bud has already perfected quick-play in Milwaukee.

Brooklyn could steal a game if the law of large numbers cheats the Bucks’ shooting, but Milwaukee’s system is too refined to allow a long series.

Potentail 1 vs. 5 semifinal: Phialdelphia 76ers

The 76ers’ x-mas beatdown of Milwaukee provided the cream city one of its few pre-coronavirus concerns. Thankfully, Giannis won’t have to worry about road playoff frustration this season. Still, Philadelphia has the rare size to force the Freak to kick the ball to outside shooters. Those shots didn’t fall in Toronto last year, and the Bucks couldn’t keep up. However, Milwaukee hopes a lack of focus will hinder Philly. If Joel Embiid had been fully healthy, the 2019 Sixers would have easily reached the East finals. Philadelphia must forget four months of inactivity and learn to play away for home, where they finished just 10-24. Milwaukee already proved it could exile Philadelphia in a more favorable environment.

Still, Philadelphia has the personnel to triumph, so Giannis needs to play smart.

Potential 1 vs. 5 Semifinal: Indiana Pacers

Victor Oladipo played just 13 games before the NBA suspension, and needs to be 100% for Indiana to defeat Milwaukee. The Pacers have a solid core around the young rising star, including, of course, Malcolm Brogdon. There probably isn’t any genuine ill-will between the Bucks and “the President,” and without booing fans, a purer series will entertain couch-surfers. Oladipo, though, isn’t talented enough to single-handedly propel a team to a Conference Finals. Milwaukee will defeat Indiana if Giannis is entirely focused and performs optimally.

Potential 1 vs. 4 Semifinal: Miami Heat

Many Bucks fans dreaded potential playoff trips to Florida considering Miami’s 27-5 home record and their stoutness against Milwaukee. It’s true all Bucks-Heat playoff games would be in Florida, but thankfully not in any manner that would favor Miami. Understand, though, that Jimmy Butler’s Heat is no one’s underdog. Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra run the franchise with respect, and their pride reflects an unafraid team. The Bucks are more talented, but this semifinal would be no tune-up. Giannis still needs to make a postseason statement against a formidable playoff foe. The Heat series can’t be in Milwaukee, but rest assured every bar TV will project the Freak to a hungering fanbase. If Khris and Brook complement Giannis, the Bucks will certainly have enough to get it done.

Potential 1 vs. 3 Final: Boston Celtics

Last year’s semifinal fizzled as Boston’s angst consumed the team. However, the C’s think and play more cleanly this season. A rising Jayson Tatum leads the historically fruitful franchise that’s shooting for a long-awaited NBA Finals. (Goodness, it’s been ten years!) Thankfully, the Bucks weren’t scared to play in the Garden and won’t have to now, anyways.

The 2019 Bucks effortlessly beat a lesser team, but there’s no smooth formula to win now. Milwaukee needs a statement play in Games 1 or 2 to claim the conference crown. A demoralizing block or buzzer-beating three could psychologically edge Boston. Three underplayed minutes cheated the 2019 Bucks of a Toronto 3-0 lead. The Bucks must recognize that every second counts to prevail.

Potential 1 vs. 2 Final: Toronto Raptors

The conference finals defy simple storytelling. Just observing “no Kawhi!” will not guarantee a Milwaukee triumph. Consider the teams’ first meeting this season, in Milwaukee. The Bucks sprinted to a 51-25 lead, only for the process-oriented Raptors to cut the lead to four with 2:24 left.

While the deer did escape the trap, Toronto proved it will not be an easy out. Nick Nurse attends to the details needed for success, and his roster has plenty of talent to defeat the Bucks, even without Leonard. The margin between parades and Kleenex is often just one play. If Khris’s late three in Game 3 falls, “We The North” would still be a late-night punchline. This time around, Milwaukee will look to turn the dinosaurs extinct.

A Steep Trail

Without the journey up, the Finals summit would lose context. Every possible Eastern Conference foe poses a new threat, and the Bucks will have to navigate their way around all of them. A showdown with the Lakers in the finals is not inevitable. Giannis and company must adequately prepare for each opponent on the daunting East wheel of destiny. If Giannis plays skillfully without pressing, and his teammates foil double-teams by hitting split-second open shots, Milwaukee will rise to the occasion. And 40 years of disappointment will be wiped from the green and white floor.

Stop Presses: Bucks’ Schedule Released

Unfortunately, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s deadline is pretty early nowadays. Thankfully, they don’t need to stop their presses because Bucks Lead has your Bucks schedule preview right now!

Friday, July 31st: Bucks-Celtics, 5:30 Central

This would be a good day to tell your boss, “dang, Zoom zonked out!” Much like the Brewers’ first-ever game in 1970, most fans will be happy to have a team at all and won’t demand a win. Boston can’t possibly catch the Bucks, at 9.5 games back, but are just 2.5 games up on #4 Miami. While still playing to win, the Bucks can ease into Orlando while maintaining pride.

Sunday, August 2nd: Bucks-Rockets, 7:30

Beginnings are memorable, and the Bucks’ epic comeback in Houston doesn’t seem far away at all. The wheel of fortune comes full circle as Milwaukee, with two more days of practice, start the stampede to #1. Houston is battling fiercely in a packed West, so Milwaukee can’t afford a flippant attitude.

Tuesday, August 4th: Bucks-Nets, 12:30

“Sorry boss, I think Spectrum went bankrupt!” Use every excuse in the book, because this potential playoff preview could portend the Bucks’ playoff fate. By game three, hopefully, the deer are back to nearly full strength. If they wallop Brooklyn again, a long playoff run missed in June could make a not-too-late return.

Thursday, August 6th: Bucks-Heat, 3:00

As mentioned above, Miami isn’t a team to give gift wins or make half-assed efforts. With five games left, Milwaukee could probably cruise to the top seed from here. Remember, though, how Boston nearly spooked Giannis with their game one win last year. Milwaukee can’t win a Heat semifinal before it starts, but it can declare itself the feared favorite, not to be dissuaded.

Sunday, August 8th: Bucks-Mavs, 7:30

The Mavericks bring a challenge they don’t see often in the east. Luka Dončić leads one of the most dynamic offenses of all-time, a team that shocked the Bucks without him. Milwaukee must run its offense efficiently and closeout quickly on a quick-shooting arsenal.

Tuesday, August 10th: Bucks-Raptors, 5:30

Again, the story is not, “Bucks vs. a team missing Kawhi.” It’s, “Bucks vs. a versatile, well-coached, and focused sleeper-threat.” Unless Milwaukee wins in a runaway, it’ll be difficult to make predictions about a potential East Finals. A convincing enough win, however, would plant an important seed of doubt in the lizards’ minds.

Tuesday, August 11th: Bucks-Wizards, 8:00

With two games left, the Bucks have probably wrapped up the top seed. We will not know until game seven if Washington still has a chance for a play-in. One can envision a battling Wizards team beating the Bucks’ bench. With only eight games, however, coach Bud may want his starters to stay in playoff shape, making the outcome uncertain.

Thursday, August 13th: Bucks-Grizz, TBD

The Bucks will have almost certainly eclipsed Toronto for #1 by the 13th. The Grizz, by contrast, may need to avoid a play-in against a trailing #9. The Bucks will probably measure Giannis and his floor-mates’ minutes knowing that tomorrow, everyone is 0-0 again.

“Every new beginning,” sings Semisonic, “comes from some other beginning’s end.” The era of coronavirus basketball, unfortunately, has only just started. Take solace that it coincides with the end of the NBA best player debate as Giannis unchains a dormant basketball menace.

Follow us on Twitter @BucksLead for the latest Bucks news and insight.

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About Jeffrey Newholm

"Jammin Jeff" Newholm had been a basketball fanatic since his high school days, and remained a casual fan as a student in Whitewater. Wishing to check in as an active participant, he also completed a writing certificate program at UWM. He loves seeing Bucks games more than any other activity in hometown Milwaukee and especially screaming really really loudly to get someone to miss a free throw. Twitter: @JeffreyNewholm

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