The third-seeded Milwaukee Bucks are set to face off against the sixth-seeded Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs with millions of eyes sure to be on the defending champs. The Bucks secured another impressive season and finished tied for second in the East with a record of 51-31. The Celtics tiebreaker gave the second seed to Boston and slated the Bucks to face off with the Chicago Bulls who have had a difficult stretch of injuries toward the end of the season. With the first round of playoffs right around the corner, here are 3 bold predictions for what to expect in round one.
Milwaukee Bucks: 3 Bold Predictions for First Round of 2022
3) Giannis Averages Over 32 Points Per game
While he has a strong supporting cast behind him, the Milwaukee Bucks are still largely reliant on the play of Giannis Antetokounmpo for their team's success. The Greek Freak averaged a career-high 29.9 points per game this season which was second in the NBA behind only Joel Embiid. Teams have done their best to create schemes that prevent Giannis from effectively attacking the basket, but his 6'11 height and 7'4 wingspan can simply be too much at times. The progress he has shown in his touch around the rim is incredibly impressive and should be frightening to the rest of the NBA.
The Bulls have struggled with their interior defense at times this season largely due to Nikola Vucevic carrying most of the load at the center position. No team has an ideal player to match up with Giannis, but the Bulls are even thinner in this category than most. Tristan Thompson will likely come off the bench and use his fouls and Tony Bradley may also give it an attempt. It is also worth noting that one of the Bulls' best perimeter defenders, Lonzo Ball, has been shut down for the remainder of the year due to a knee injury. The bottom line is if you are not stopping Giannis you cannot stop the Bucks and he should have free range attacking the basket for a good portion of the series.
2) There Will be a Bobby Portis Game
Bobby Portis is already a folk hero in Milwaukee due to his standout performance in last year's playoffs and that likely will never change. The guy is nicknamed “The Mayor of Milwaukee” for a reason. Portis has stepped up his production this season and transitioned from a feel-good story to a real-deal contributor. Portis averaged 14.6 points and 9.1 rebounds per game this season during the career-high 28.2 minutes per game he played this season.
There are some players who seem to have that extra playoff gear and Bobby Portis absolutely is one of them. In his lone career postseason start, which was due to an injury to Giannis, Portis totaled 22 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals during last year's playoffs. The playoff energy seems to bring out the best in Portis and expect him to be ready for crunchtime during this series.
1) Brook Lopez Will Struggle
The 34-year-old journeyman has done a terrific job reviving his career largely due to the addition of a three-point shot. After attempting just 7 career three-point attempts during his first six years in the NBA, Lopez has made it a major focus in his game in his later years. The man humbly referred to as “Splash Mountain” has averaged at least 4 three-point attempts per game in every season since 2017. His ability to stretch the floor offensively and leave room for Giannis to drive has been a major key to the Bucks' success in years past.
There has not been quite the same success with Lopez this season as injuries have interrupted a good portion of his year. A back injury that was picked up on opening night kept the veteran big man sidelined for over three months and he played a total of just 31 games on the season. The bigger concern with Lopez is the matchup with Nikola Vucevic who stacks upright with him stylistically. From the Bulls big man's perspective, this is a near-ideal matchup as Vuc will be able to drift out to the perimeter and not be forced to rim protect as heavily.
It will be interesting to see how it plays out but this does not seem to be a series where Brook Lopez will be counted on too heavily. When attempting to project out the matchups, it may serve the Bucks best to primarily go small and force Vucevic to attempt to matchup with Giannis. Whether or not this impacts the Bucks negatively is still to be seen, but don't expect Splash Mountain to be tallying major minutes in this Bulls series.