Eastern Playoff Preview: Miami Heat vs. Milwaukee Bucks
Our first preview in a series by series breakdown of every first round match-up as we head into the playoffs, ShakyAnkles’ writers Aaron Weiss, Spencer Lund, and Michael Pina begin with the Miami Heat taking on the Milwaukee Bucks. Bucks fans: you know what you’re getting into. Tread carefully.
Aaron Weiss: It’s virtually a given at this point that the Miami Heat are going to slaughter the Bucks, what with the Heat’s best players getting rest, and an aura of confidence that I haven’t seen from any team in quite some time. This isn’t the kind of confidence the Celtics usually try to bring, where they legitimately believe they can win any game, but privately acknowledge it’s going to take them sticking to a game plan, playing tough D, being healthy, etc. The Heat, on the other hand, have mastered the art of not giving a fuck while simultaneously being so focused that they can decimate anybody (except when they don’t). Their historic streak was not a fluke, though many will point to the close games they had and some inferior competition. There’s a case to be made in that, sure, but is anybody saying the Bucks don’t deserve to be lumped in with that “inferior competition”? They’re an 8-seed in the Eastern Conference, with a fan base that even Atlanta Hawks fans laugh at. So what’s the challenge for the Heat?
There is none, but there might be a scenario in which the Heat have to earn it in the fourth quarter. Looking at the final game of the season series between the two, in which the Heat won 94-83, the Bucks were only down by one at the half, and even briefly had the lead. They were able to keep it close by sinking threes, courtesy of Brandon Jennings and JJ Redick. They were avoiding low-percentage mid-range shots for the most part, and making the most of possessions. It’s all basic basketball 101 stuff, but there’s a reason it’s basic: because it works.
So how’d they lose? An atrocious third quarter can be blamed, in which they only scored 13 points and shot 4-for-17, including 1-for-8 from three. Throw in nine turnovers, and it’s a recipe for killing any momentum you had, and preventing any from being created. Credit should be given to the Heat’s defense as well, but seeing as seven of those third quarter turnovers were defined by Basketball Reference as “bad passes”, it’s clear that Milwaukee was not in sync. Considering how many players on the team have what could generously be called “offense-only” game, they’re going to need Larry Sanders, Goose Ayon, and Sam Dalembert (who was DNP-CD for this game) to step it up in penetrating the post, hopefully causing some kind of mismatch with Miami’s small-ball. It may be a moot point, though, if Birdman and Haslem are going to be playing. Both cleaned the glass against Milwaukee, nabbing 9 and 15 boards, respectively, and that’s with Haslem showing up a strong rebounder in Sanders at the center spot.
Basically, the likelihood of a sweep is very, very high, and considering LeBron only had to play 30 minutes in that final game, with neither of the other Big Three members, this series would allow Miami to give some bench warmers good playoff minutes and allow them to acclimate to the tempo, while resting their best for tougher competition… if there is such a thing in the East.
Prediction: Heat win, 4-0
Spencer Lund: Jim Boylan’s squad doesn’t have much of a chance, as Aaron already alluded to, and even the most casual basketball fan knows the Bucks are doomed. Their backcourt pairing of low efficiency shooters, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, could justifiably get lumped in with an older NBA where “shots o’clock” was a staple at the club and on the court, and they have a tendency to rely a bit too much on Larry Sanders down low, but I think they’ll catch the Heat by surprise in Milwaukee. Predicting this series isn’t so much about determining who will win, but what the final tally of games will be.
Jennings and Ellis—despite their tendency to shoot their team out of games—can also shoot them into games, and the Heat could get caught believing this is just a warmup before the Knicks/Celtics/Pacers they’ll have to face later in the playoffs. If that happens, an offensive explosion by either of their guards, or possibly Mike Dunleavy and J.J. Redick could mean a surprise Bucks victory. But predicting anything more than a single Bucks win in this series is about as foolish as believing hard-nosed Scott Skiles was gonna last the season in Milwaukee after management decided not to extend him last summer. The Bucks are a stretch to avoid a sweep, but I’d like to think Jennings—perhaps playing for a *cough* max *cough* contract—goes off in at least one game, and Ellis continues his relatively hot end to the season and the Bucks get one win. It’s a prediction that’s at least more exciting than another steamrolled Heat opponent, but probably less likely.
Prediction: Heat win, 4-1
Michael Pina: This is the series that my mother (who believes Danilo Gallinari, Andrea Bargnani, and Marco Bellineli are actually the three greatest players in history) looks at and confidently predicts a Miami sweep. She’s right. The Heat have LeBron James, a player with no on-court boundaries or off-court boxes to sit in. He’s of the super-duper famous with super-duper talent, and he’s mastering the game right now in a way that the sport has seen maybe three or four times since its invention.
So, just how overwhelming is this match-up? If for whatever reason James wasn’t able to participate in the series, Milwaukee would still lose in six.
Prediction: Heat win, 4-0