With the first Milwaukee Bucks' 2023 NBA Playoff series scheduled against the Miami Heat, the opening-round matchup is expected to be one-sided. Ahead of the Bucks-Heat series, we’ll be making our Bucks playoff predictions.
It will go down as one of the biggest upsets in history if the Heat eliminate the Bucks in the first round of the 2023 NBA Playoffs. Milwaukee earned the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference with a league-best 58-24 record. The Bucks finished 14 games ahead of the Heat in the standings. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the NBA's best player.
Miami was defeated by the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the NBA Play-In Tournament. The Heat salvaged their playoff hopes by holding off the Chicago Bulls in their second Play-In Tournament game. Nothing in the regular season suggested that Bucks would have trouble with the Heat in a seven-game series.
A bit of a Bucks-Heat rivalry has developed in recent years. Miami needed just five games to beat Milwaukee in the second round of the NBA's bubble playoffs. One year later, the Bucks returned the favor by sweeping the Heat in the first round on their way to winning the 2021 NBA Finals. Let's take a look at the upcoming postseason series between the two teams and make some Bucks playoff predictions.
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3. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday will have a better series than any Miami Heat player
It's not exactly a bold prediction to say that Antetokounmpo will be the best player in the Bucks-Heat series. It's basically a given. Jimmy Butler is Miami's biggest star and expected to be the second-best player on either team. Don't be surprised if Jrue Holiday holds that distinction by outplaying Butler in the first round of the 2023 NBA Playoffs.
The Bucks completely shut down Butler in their playoff series with the Heat two years ago. The six-time All-Star was held to an average of 14.5 points on an abysmal 29.7% shooting. Butler didn't score 20 points or shoot better than 41.2% in any of the four games. Holiday's defense had a lot to do with Butler's performance, and he even blocked Butler's shot at the end of Game 1 to seal the Bucks' victory.
Holiday filled up the stat sheet with averages of 15.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 9.8 assists and 2.3 steals in the Bucks' sweep of the Heat. He shot 48.1% from the field. In four games against Miami during the 2022-2023 regular season, Holiday scored 18.8 points per game on 57.4% shooting.
2. Milwaukee Bucks will hold Miami Heat below 100 points per game
The biggest mismatch of the entire 2023 NBA Playoffs will be the Bucks' defense against the Heat's offense. Milwaukee has the No. 4 defensive rating in the league. Had the Bucks not coasted down the stretch of the season with the No. 1 seed in hand, they might have allowed the fewest points per 100 possessions. Miami ranks 25th in offense rating and dead last among all playoff teams. The Heat will have a ton of trouble putting up points, and it's going to result in a quick playoff exit.
How bad would it be for the Heat to score 100 points per game? Doing so would put Miami 9.5 points below its season average, which was the worst in the NBA. The Heat scored 105 points in their Play-In Tournament loss. Miami flirted with finishing below the century mark in the second play-in game before a 15-1 run in the final three minutes propelled the Heat to a 102-91 victory over the Bulls.
Scoring 103.5 points per game against the Hawks and Bulls doesn't bode well for the Heat's chances against the Bucks. Bam Adebayo's 20 points on 21 field-goal attempts over two games were concerning. Miami was held to 99 points or fewer in regulation three times in its 2021 playoff series with Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo, Holiday and Brook Lopez are All-Defense candidates.
1. Milwaukee Bucks will sweep Miami Heat
The most likely outcome is for the Bucks to eliminate the Heat in five games, according to the latest NBA odds at FanDuel Sportsbook. Milwaukee has +160 odds to beat Miami in five games. The odds for a Bucks' sweep are +290. Given the way both teams have played throughout the season, Milwaukee should take care of business in the fewest games possible.
The Heat have given no indication that they can be any kind of a threat to the best teams in basketball. This is not the same Miami team that was a Butler 3-pointer away from reaching the 2022 NBA Finals. They are 17-17 over the last 34 games. In important late-season matchups against the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets that could've kept them out of the Play-In Tournament, the Heat came up well short. Miami was embarrassed at home in its first play-in game before the Bulls blew their chance to end the Heat's season.
The Bucks were the NBA's best team in the regular season, despite their stars being in and out of the lineup. Antetokounmpo missed 19 games. Holiday didn't play in 15 games. Khris Middleton missed 49 contests and started just 19 times. Middleton finally started to look more like himself at the end of the season. After averaging fewer than 12.0 points per game in January and February, Middleton scored 16.6 points per game after the All-Star break.
Milwaukee beat Miami in both regular-season matchups during which Antetokounmpo played. The average score was 126-107 in those games. The 2023 NBA Playoffs probably won't be much different.