Bucks

Who is Milwaukee’s Latest Eastern Conference Threat?

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The Milwaukee Bucks’ biggest Bubble win came last Thursday in their comeback defeat of the Miami Heat, 130-116. Led by the team’s two all-stars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton with 33 points each, the Bucks were able to clinch the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the second straight season. Although it was an exciting way to spend his 51st birthday, Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer knows they still have work to do.

Early Struggles

Yes, we are all excited and thankful that the NBA season is back and already nearing the end of seeding games. So far, fans have been surprised at some team’s performances. The Phoenix Suns have been a tremendous and unexpected force in Orlando, while the league’s elite contenders have looked a bit questionable at times.

I don’t mean to burst your Disney World bubble Bucks fans, but the ride to the finals will not be a cake walk.

The Bucks looked like they had picked up right where they left off by beating the Boston Celtics 119-112 in their first seeding game. Their next matchup against Houston resulted in a disappointing 116-120 loss, but that was not the end of the world. The Rockets shot 34.4% from three (on a ridiculous 61 attempts) and 87% from the line. The Bucks only shot 74% from the line and had 22 turnovers to Houston’s nine. James Harden and Russell Westbrook also combined for 55 points.

The biggest upset in the bubble so far happened unfortunately, against the Bucks. A severely-damaged Brooklyn Nets team, who many suggested should leave the bubble entirely, handed Milwaukee its second straight loss. It’s important to remember that Giannis and Middleton didn’t play in the second half. The Nets, however, were in control the entire first half, and they did it without three of their starters in Jarrett Allen, Joe Harris and Caris LeVert. That’s what really turned the heads of NBA fans.

I was nervous about that Nets game weeks ago. The Bucks don’t usually perform well when they play afternoon or early evening games. Milwaukee went 1-2 this season in day games, including a 131-126 loss to Miami in the season’s home opener back in October. They also had a forgettable performance in Philadelphia on Christmas. Although they did go 5-3 last season in day games, the only playoff loss they had to Boston was a 1 o’clock start.

Bucks fans released a heavy sigh of relief after the victory over Miami. Although without Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic, the Heat seemed to be in control most of the contest. The Bucks stormed back with 20 unanswered points to seal the comeback. This was particularly rewarding as the win came against a team the Bucks had not beaten yet this season.

Another team Milwaukee fell short to this season was the Dallas Mavericks. Roughly eight months after their first matchup, the Mavs pulled away with another win against the Bucks Saturday night. Dallas may be a Western Conference team, but its important to analyze how the best teams in the league battle. Given the Mavs are amongst the strongest in the league, it’s not necessary to stress about an overtime loss. Dallas is a tough out anytime superstar Luka Doncic has a triple-double.

Leakers and Sleepers

As of this very moment, I wouldn’t consider any team a “safe bet” to win it all. The fact the Suns are winning more games in the Bubble than any other team tells you that most of the league is still trying to find its rhythm.

The Bucks still remain the favorites in the Eastern Conference by the majority of reporters, analysts and fans. But who’s going to be their biggest menace? That question has been interchangeable throughout the entire season. The East is stronger than it has been in years and the best teams all seem to have one thing in common– they want to beat the Milwaukee Bucks.

It’s been reported that members of the Houston Rockets gave advice to the Brooklyn Nets on how to beat the Bucks.

https://twitter.com/LegionHoops/status/1290752726750527488

 

Oh, would you look at that? A team from Houston doing something sneaky. How strange!

I highly doubt the Rockets provided any deeper information than what the entire league already knew. And even if they did, I still wouldn’t put the Nets on my “most feared” list. The Rockets wouldn’t even make that list. And with 76ers PG Ben Simmons now out for the season after having knee surgery, Philadelphia has fallen outside of the radar as well.

Indiana?

What about Indiana? They could be a sleeper that dances their way through a series, but do they have the ability to handle the Bucks? I don’t know about seven games, but it definitely wouldn’t be a sweep. The Bucks did go 3-1 against Indiana this season, but all three wins came against a Pacers team without Victor Oladipo. Indiana is 5-2 in the bubble and T.J. Warren has emerged out of nowhere. Former Buck Malcolm Brogdon might be able to provide some insight against his old team as well. Let’s just hope he doesn’t do it at the swimming pool.

Boston?

The Celtics though? If they stay healthy and get hot at the right time, they could be a big problem for the Bucks. Milwaukee beat Boston in their first game during the season’s restart, but the Celtics have gone 4-1 since then. A Jaylen Brown– and Jayson Tatum-led Celtics team against a Giannis-led Bucks could be the next best rivalry in the Eastern Conference. Celtics guard Marcus Smart threw shade at the officiating over a controversial foul call, which he claims was overturned to keep Giannis from getting his sixth foul. This only adds fuel to the fire and makes Boston even hungrier. They could easily storm their way to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Miami?

The Miami Heat are another East sleeper. When they’re healthy, they are one of the deepest teams in the NBA. The Bucks went winless against the Heat this season and it took an outstanding effort to overcome them in the Bubble without Jimmy Butler. Miami has struggled a bit in the bubble as they are currently 3-3, but they match up against the Bucks as well as anybody. They can also light it up from behind the arc, which is a nightmare for the Bucks’ defense.

Toronto?

The Raptors, though losing Kawhi Leonard, did not disappear this season as originally expected– and they might be Milwaukee’s biggest threat yet again. They just handed the Bucks their fourth loss in the Bubble while earning their fifth victory. The Bucks were without Giannis (don’t worry, just a tooth thing) but Kyle LowryFred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka were also not in uniform for the Raptors. Bucks fans obviously remember last season, and so does Toronto. I don’t think anybody has counted them out as of late, but back in October, they certainly weren’t expected to be the No. 2 seed again.

What to Expect

Usually when you clinch the top seed in the conference and only have a few games left, you let your starters rest. We saw Coach Budenholzer do this against Washington. It appears, however, that this won’t be the case for tomorrow’s game against Memphis.

Players are still adjusting to playing again. Last year, the Bucks played their final game on 05/25/19 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. 152 days later, the Bucks began the 2019-20 season in Houston. On March 9th, the Bucks lost to the Nuggets in Denver. 144 days later, the Bucks played the Celtics at Walt Disney World in Orlando. The COVID-19 pandemic that caused the NBA to shut down was basically an offseason before the playoffs.

That time off and apart from each other may have hampered their overall chemistry. Noticing how the Bucks are having a clear turnover problem (101 total in the bubble) points in that direction. The small chemistry issues may not be the worst problem to have, but it has to be addressed. This is why starters should play every game.

The first round of the playoffs against the Magic should also be an experimental stage. The team should expect to win this series, but not too easily. Fans should also expect the Bucks to be victorious in the first round, all while remaining calm and patient. Milwaukee may have entered the season restart going 3-4 so far, but so did LeBron’s Lakers.

This season has been historically delayed and it’s technically almost over, but yet, it’s still early. Stay tuned Bucks fans, the best of the Bubble is on its way!

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About Mike Konicek

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