Fittingly billed as a potential Finals showdown, Friday night NBA basketball showcased a preview of June with the Milwaukee Bucks taking on the Los Angeles Lakers. Los Angeles bested Milwaukee to split the season series and got their statement victory over the team with the best record in the NBA.
As for the Bucks, it wasn’t a devastating defeat by any means. However, it should give them a slight jolt of reality that they are indeed beatable, despite sporting the best record in the Association. It’s no secret that Milwaukee’s success hinges on the reigning NBA MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
However, from what Friday’s match-up showed us, The Greek Freak, as dominant as he is, cannot handle LeBron James and Anthony Davis all by his lonesome. He will need others to step up, particularly these two individuals:
1. Khris Middleton
Khris Middleton is undoubtedly Milwaukee’s best player not named Giannis Anteteokounmpo. His two All-Star nods next to the Greek Freak speak for itself. Thus, the Bucks will need him to show up in any potential Finals showdown against the Lakers, should they both make it out of their respective conferences.
On Friday, Middleton struggled mightily, going just 5-of-19 from the field and 2-of-10 from long range en route to 12 points. This is a far cry from his ultra-efficient season where he is shooting 49.9 percent from the field and 41.8 percent from three.
The Lakers did a good job bothering Middleton with good contests and made it difficult for him to get his rhythm. But even with some of his wide open jumpers, Middleton wasn’t able to knock them down.
Nonetheless, if the Bucks want to have a chance against LeBron, AD, and company, Middleton will need to be as consistent as he has been for majority of this season. Aside from Giannis, of course, Middleton is Milwaukee’s most important player.
The 28-year old can knock down the three-ball and has a well-rounded offensive game. Aside from creating for himself, he also has the knack of also creating for his teammates. Likewise, he plays solid defense on the other end as well.
Antetokounmpo will need help, and Milwaukee’s best source of it should come from the two-time All-Star swingman.
2. Eric Bledsoe
This right here is Milwaukee’s X-Factor. Eric Bledsoe’s Critics have been skeptical of his reliability when it matters most. They have every right to be given how his last two postseason performances have played out.
In the 2018 playoffs, then Boston Celtics reserve guard Terry Rozier thoroughly outplayed Bledsoe through their seven-game series. In their Eastern Conference Finals series against the eventual NBA champion Toronto Raptors last year, Bledsoe averaged just 10.2 points while shooting a dismal 29.4 percent from the field and 17.2 percent from three.
Bledsoe cannot flame out like he has done, especially over the Bucks’ last two playoff exits. In his two-and-a-half seasons in Milwaukee, Bledsoe is averaging 16.4 points while shooting at an efficient 48.1 percent from the field and a respectable 34.1 percent from deep.
Bledsoe’s inability to space the floor has led to Milwaukee’s demise the last couple of years. With his history of going sour from the great beyond come playoff time, the Lakers will likely dare him to launch from distance. And the 6-foot-1 guard, despite being a solid slasher himself, likely has no choice but to hoist them up given Los Angeles’ lengthy front court and elite shot blockers towering the rim.
If Bledsoe comes any close to any of his regular season numbers, especially from three, Milwaukee should be the favorites to win it all in June. Of course, he will need to knock down the threes that opposing teams like the Lakers will eventually dare him to take.