Heat-Bucks Round 2 in Round 1 All About Affirmation


At the dawn of another NBA postseason lies ahead a first-round rematch of epic proportions.

Miami vs. Milwaukee. Jimmy Butler vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo. Erik Spoelstra vs. Mike Budenholzer. A matchup that will send shockwaves across the conference. Here we go (again).

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Running It Back Outside the Bubble

In case you’ve forgotten, the Heat dismantled the Bucks in the Bubble’s second round last year. Milwaukee walked into Orlando as the East’s favorites, but stellar performances from Butler Goran Dragic, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro shocked the basketball world– dethroning the Bucks in a gentleman’s sweep. Their victory sparked questions for the futures of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Mike Budenholzer in Milwaukee. For Miami, it sparked speculation if the Heat had become the team to beat in the East.

Eight months later, things are different. Milwaukee remains a cautious favorite again in this series, but both teams have changed significantly. Although Miami enters as the No. 6 seed, rivals will no longer underestimate the team’s potential for a second consecutive deep playoff run. Milwaukee, conversely, is seeded third instead of first. Despite the seed drop, it cannot be ignored that this is one of their best squads in recent memory.

Fear the Deer, This Milwaukee Team is Legit

  • Two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo continued his league-wide wrath this season, averaging  28.1 points, 11.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks per game.
  • Two-time all-star Khris Middleton can too stuff the stat sheet with 20.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game.
  • Brook Lopez has improved from last season’s down year, posting incrementally better numbers across the board while increasing all three shooting splits (50.3/33.8/84.5).

Lopez and Middleton were crucial in last year’s series, often being asked to carry the load offensively with Giannis being neutralized by Miami’s zone and double-team defense.

Milwaukee has built an excellent squad around Giannis to space the floor and allow him to create off the dribble. Donte DiVincenzo has adapted well into a starting role this season as another two-way threat. Additional newbies Bryn Forbes and Bobby Portis give the Bucks extremely productive scoring minutes off the bench. An X-factor could come in the form of veteran P.J. Tucker, acquired a week prior to the trade deadline this season.

The biggest addition to this team, however, is elite two-way guard Jrue Holiday. Acquired from New Orleans last offseason, Holiday averages 17.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.6 steals per game. Holiday is arguably the best defender at his position, creating matchup nightmares in Miami’s backcourt and comes as a must-needed acquisition after Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro cooked the Bucks’ backcourt a season ago.

Red-Hot Heat

Do not sleep on the Heat again, however. Please don’t do it two years in a row.

  • While the loss of Victor Oladipo certainly hurts Miami’s title chances, this team is just as good as the team that was two wins away from a championship last season. Miami storms into the playoffs as winners in twelve of their last sixteen (12-2 when Jimmy plays).
  • After a season of inconsistency and injuries, the Heat look back in top form at the right time.
  • Jimmy Butler capped a near-MVP type season in year two for Miami, scoring 21.5 points, grabbing 6.9 rebounds and dishing 7.1 assists per game. Butler also led the league in steals at 2.1 swipes per contest.
  • Bam Adebayo grew into one of the top defenders in the league, despite being absolutely snubbed from the DPOY award.

Don’t believe me? Joel Embiid had two games this season where he didn’t score in double digits– guess who both of those were against?


The Heat’s hot play makes them an enormous sleeper to not only beat Milwaukee, but win the conference. Consistency from Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro has been an issue for the Heat sophomores. Shooting struggles have come and gone from three-point range. Turnovers and a lack of rebounding plague the team at times. Once the team clicks on all cylinders, however, they are truly dangerous to upset any opponent.

Bucks Took Regular-Season Series

Miami and Milwaukee met three times this year, with Milwaukee winning two. Jimmy didn’t play in any game. The Bucks wiped the floor with the Heat 144-97 in the first matchup, but Miami responded with a 119-108 comeback win the following night. The Bucks took the regular-season series with a 122-108 win just last weekend. An interesting note– Jimmy didn’t take the floor in any of the three bouts.

The Bucks clearly had Miami’s number, but what can we really take away from these games if Jimmy didn’t play?

  • Nunn led the Heat with 16.3 points per game
  • Herro averaged 15.7 points, 8 rebounds and 4.3 assists
  • Bam was held to a mere 13.0 points, but still added 7.3 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game
  • Dragic averaged 15.0 points in just 21.1 minutes per game.

Key Matchups To Watch For

Who will guard Giannis?

This is obviously the biggest concern for Miami. Last year, Miami’s zone defense and constant “switch-everything” defense with Bam, Jimmy and Jae Crowder limited Giannis to being virtually ineffective.

  • Trevor Ariza will likely open the game as the primary defender on Giannis, but expect to see Adebayo switch onto him for extended stretches of the game.
  • Andre Iguodala will be a key substitution for perimeter defense against the former MVP.
  • Forcing Giannis to shoot outside shots and distribute to lesser players will remain the focal point of the defensive gameplan.
  • Giannis has struggled to score on Bam all season long, so in the late moments of the game Adebayo will be tasked with enormous responsibility.

How Does Miami Match Up on the Perimeter?

Miami’s perimeter defense remains a weakness. Dragic, Herro and Duncan Robinson remain centerpieces in the Heat offense, but their shortfalls on the defensive end could prove fatal against Middleton, DiVincenzo and Holiday. Miami needs to find a way to score on Milwaukee’s great defensive duo while also getting stops of their own. Expect to see plenty of high-screen handoffs from Adebayo to free up Duncan and Goran for some open looks.

Defense will be the deciding factor in this series. What plan can Spoelstra devise to hide his less-adept defenders from Milwaukee’s talented playmakers? Will it be zone again? Will it be man with switching on every high ball screen? Time will tell.

Small Ball?

Size versus small-ball will be a topic of debate all postseason. The Lakers exposed the Heat in the Finals last year for their lack of size, and Milwaukee has the capability of doing that just as well. Coach Spoelstra may utilize Dewayne Dedmon in a bigger role against a Milwaukee team that likes to play big. Precious Achiuwa may even need to see the floor for small stretches to match up with Lopez and Portis. Dedmon is averaging 19.4 points and 14.7 rebounds per 36 minutes this season.

The Three-Pointer

Miami has dealt with up-and-down shooting all season. Miami’s three-point shot can be looked at as the difference in defeating Milwaukee last season. With an extreme reliance on the outside shot for offense, Miami will need to connect at a high-clip. Similarly, Miami has far too often allowed teams to light up their defense from three this year.

Let The Games Begin

Grab your popcorn for a series that will be must-watch television for six or seven nights. Miami was labeled the “bubble flukes” all season– it’s time for them to prove the doubters wrong.

Follow us on Twitter @HeatLead for the latest Heat news and insight.

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About Conor Fagan

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