The Milwaukee Bucks completed a gentleman’s sweep on the Orlando Magic on Saturday, closing out that first-round matchup with a 4-1 series victory. This allowed the league-best Bucks to set up an intriguing second-round meeting with the Miami Heat, who themselves upset the odds to defeat the fourth-placed Indiana Pacers in the first round.
Miami did so in style, defeating the Pacers in a clean sweep, and effectively sending Indiana to what should be a soul-searching offseason (they already kicked things off by firing head coach Nate McMillan). The Heat have been one of, if not the most impressive team in the first round, and they might just have the tools to upset the heavily-favored Bucks in the second round.
More than a few experts are already backing Miami to mount an upset against the Bucks in the conference semifinals. This is not only due to the fact that the Heat made easy work of their first-round opponents, but more importantly because they are actually capable of doing so.
Below are three compelling reasons why.
Stopping the MVP
First off, let’s make one thing clear: there’s no stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo. The reigning MVP is well on his way to back-to-back titles, and by winning the Defensive Player of the Year award as well, he could potentially join Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only three players who have bagged both individual awards in the same season.
Clearly, there is just no way anyone can stop an unstoppable force, but the Heat might just be able to contain him.
These two teams met three times in the regular season, with Miami coming away with two wins out of three. Perhaps most noteworthy is their second win in March, where the Heat blew out the Bucks, 105-89.
That evening, Miami was relatively successful in preventing an offensive outburst from Giannis, as he finished with just 13 points on 6-of-18 shooting. Not including Antetokounmpo’s 12-point effort against the Washington Wizards on August 11, where he logged just 10 minutes of play, that 13-point dud against the Heat is tied for his lowest scoring output of the season.
The point here is that Giannis can be contained, and the Heat’s defensive wall have done it in the past. If they succeed in doing the same in this upcoming series, then we might just get the upset of the playoffs.
Three is Key
Another important aspect that cannot be ignored is Miami’s acumen from distance. Over the season, the Heat rank as the fifth-best side in terms of shooting percentage from rainbow territory, with 13.0 treys per game on a 39.1-percent clip (although the Bucks are just behind them at sixth in the league at 38.3 percent). Once you factor in the intangibles, one could actually make a case that the Heat are
It’s hard to deny that for their part, the Bucks have the best defense in the NBA, but when Miami starts making it rain from distance, then not even the most outstanding defense in the league can do much to stop that.
The Heat have two of the best 3-point shooters in the league this season in Goran Dragic and Duncan Robinson, who are both ranked 14th in the entire NBA with 3.0 makes per contest. Aside from these two sharpshooters, the Heat also have Jae Crowder, Tyler Herro, and even Jimmy Butler, who found his stroke from distance in the first round against the Pacers.
If the Heat makes their shots from three against the Bucks, then this should put them in a great position to come away as the winners of the series.
The Bucks may have two All-Stars in Giannis and Khris Middleton, but the Heat also have an equal number in Butler and Bam Adebayo. While the play of all four All-Stars will be extremely important for both sides, the role players will be required to step it up as well. Milwaukee have the likes of Brook Lopez and Eric Bledsoe, while Miami will rely heavily on the likes of Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson. However, the X-Factor in this series is likely going to come in the form of Miami’s veteran point guard Goran Dragic.
Dragic has been outstanding for the Heat all season long, but the 34-year-old took it up a notch in the first round against the Pacers. Some might even say that he was the team’s best player in the series, putting up averages of 22.8 points (on 48.0 percent shooting), 4.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 1.3 steals in 34.2 minutes per contest.
With Milwaukee preoccupied with trying to stop Butler and Adebayo on the offensive end, as well trying to prevent Robinson from making it rain from distance, Dragic might just be given enough room to be the X-Factor in the series. The 12-year veteran has been through quite a lot in his career, and this might just be his year.