Bucks

Bucks Stand Tall Among Remaining East Contenders

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This hasn’t been a particularly smooth season for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Looking around the NBA landscape, though, it hasn’t been a smooth ride for many teams.

Just glance to the East. The Sixers have been devastated with Joel Embiid‘s orbital fracture and concussion. He’s missed the first two games of their current bout with the Heat, and is likely to miss more, or not be at 100% if he does return sooner than later.

The Bucks remain without Khris Middleton, who continues rehabbing his Grade 2 MCL sprain.

We are down to the final four teams in each conference and in the East it seems like the best teams all year are there. It’s going to be a fantastic, drag-out, physical bruhaha of semifinal series’ to decide who represents the East in the ECF and eventually the NBA Finals.

Where do the Eastern Conference contenders stack up? Let’s take a look.

Top contender: The Champs

It felt like all season people were concerned about the Bucks, yet Milwaukee was in the mix for the top seed until the final week of the season. For all of the concern, the Bucks were in great shape and healthy heading into the playoffs.

Things changed drastically in Game 2 against the Bulls, however, when Middleton went down. The three-time All-Star is likely to miss the entirety of the Conference Semis.

But let’s not forget last year. when the Bucks won Game 5 and Game 6 without Giannis in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Deer have won it all before. They are playing without pressure. Giannis said as much.

“I love what I’ve done in the past and that gives me confidence. I’m able to go out there and execute without thinking, without having self-doubts, or thinking I’m not good enough. That allows me to play good basketball. Mentally, I’m in a very good place. Physically, I think I can still improve. But I’m helping my team win games. So, I’m good. I don’t know if this is the best I’ve ever played, but I know that I’ve got a lot of room to improve.” — Giannis Antetokounmpo

I don’t care what the voting says– Giannis is the MVP. He does everything it takes to win. We saw it last year with a 50 piece in Game 6 to win a title.

The Valley Oop.

Sun Block in Game 4.

One scary thing: Giannis is better. His midrange game is as efficient as it’s ever been and the Bucks. That’s a scary thought for everyone else.

The Deer have the confidence and experience of winning it all just a year ago. We saw all regular season various Bucks step up like last year in the playoffs when Giannis was hurt. Role players Bobby Portis, Brook Lopez and Grayson Allen have all dropped 20-plus points when needed.

Milwaukee remains the top contender.

Celtics Second in Command?

The Bucks are playing the second-best team right now. The Celtics are playing as good as anyone. They also get the Bucks without Middleton. After hovering around the .500 mark for the first 50 games, Boston went 26-6, ranking first in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and outscoring their opponents by an amazing 14.6 points per 100 possessions.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been phenomenal. Marcus Smart is having a career year.

Boston will be a difficult out. They manhandled Brooklyn in what many anticipated would be a long series. The question is, do they have a legit post presence? The C’s can’t really throw it inside for an easy bucket. Al Horford, Robert Williams and Daniel Theis are not offensive juggernauts.

Tatum and Brown are required to carry the offensive load and Boston relies on its stout defense to win games. Without Middleton, Boston could find their way to a series win. The winner of this series will be the favorite to come out of the East.

Heat Lurking in the Trenches as The Top Seed

The Miami Heat have a nice team, but do they have the scoring to make it to the Finals?

The Heat feel like that strong regular-season team built on depth that piles up wins. The Bucks know something about that in years past. The Heat are the No. 1 seed, but are they the top team in the East? I don’t think so.

However, it is likely they make the Eastern Conference Finals. Tyler Herro won Sixth Man of the Year and they are laced with physical, tough-minded players in Bam Adebayo, Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry and PJ Tucker.

Victor Oladipo is the wild card. If he is playing at a level we saw years ago, it could be a critical boon for Miami and make them a true contender to come out of the East.

Sixers Stay in Purgatorial Limbo

The Sixers are a bit of a tough team to read. It was thought the James Harden trade would create a formidable duo between him and Joel Embiid. Harden, however, has been pedestrian with the Sixers and we all know his postseason struggles. The pressure on him is immense.

Philly needs Houston James Harden, but it doesn’t appear he has that gear anymore.

Since the Harden trade, Tobias Harris has been largely an afterthought, too. You have to see it to believe it with Philly, but if Tyrese Maxey and Harris can step up, they can be dangerous, too. The Sixers’ bench will need to have at least some impact and it’s tough to say they have the horses. Embiid has a tough task to carry Philly past the treacherous Eastern Conference landscape upon his return.

Bucks Should Be Your Pick

My pick to come out of the East: The Bucks.

The Middleton injury is worrisome. Can the role players step up every game? No, but after Game 1 it appears the likes of Grayson Allen, Pat Connaughton, Jevon Carter and the role players’ confidence is sky high. The Eastern Conference is a gauntlet this season, though.

The Bucks look to be the top contender right now. They might be better than a year ago with Giannis playing as good as he has in his career. Nearly everyone is back from a title run a season ago and the Bucks are peaking when they need to be.

About Mitchell Skurzewski

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