Last Word on Pro Basketball is giving you an NBA Playoffs preview for each series as it begins inside the bubble.
The rest of the Eastern Conference Semifinals is underway, as the two hottest teams in the East offensively and defensively will have the chance to go neck-to-neck again to see who moves on to the Conference Finals.
Both the Miami Heat and the Milwaukee Bucks cruised through the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Miami swept the Indiana Pacers, and Milwaukee completed a gentleman’s sweep against the Orlando Magic. This will be the 2nd playoff meeting between the two teams, and Miami’s first Semifinals appearance since 2016.
NBA Playoffs Preview: Miami Heat vs. Milwaukee Bucks
This series is going to be a battle 🍿 pic.twitter.com/5yRbsnBcm7
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 29, 2020
Regular Season Series Recap
This NBA Playoffs preview starts by looking back on the regular season. Although the Bucks have been the reigning team in the East for two consecutive seasons, Miami is the only team that’s played up to Milwaukee’s level, even higher in some cases.
The Heat led the regular-season series 2-1, winning the first two games. What made many spectators turn their heads to Miami being a possible threat to Milwaukee was their ability to play much more aggressively on both ends of the floor.
In their first victory at Milwaukee in Oct. 2019, the Heat overcame a 21-point deficit in the second half and overtime for a major comeback win. Then in their second victory, they held the Bucks to a season-low 89 points and 20 percent three-point shooting (7-of-34 made threes). Milwaukee, however, did come back in the third match-up in the bubble by closing the 4th quarter with a 20-4 run. There were many key moments in the series from both teams, including Bam Adebayo blocking Eric Bledsoe’s shot in overtime and both Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo scoring 33 points in the Orlando bubble match-up.
Examining the X-Factors on Both Teams
Miami Heat: Bam Adebayo
Mainly playing the four and five spot, Bam Adebayo has molded himself into a “center guard” type of player. Not only does Adebayo have shot-blocking and rebounding skills, but he also can facilitate and drive into the lane to score.
What makes him an X-Factor is his ability to guard players—especially when it comes to Giannis Antetokounmpo. He is the only player in the league that can effectively guard Giannis. When Adebayo is guarding Giannis, The Greek Freak shoots a low 36 percent from the field. This is a huge factor in the series because when Antetokounmpo is limited, this causes other players on the team to be forced to score.
The best defenders against Giannis
(h/t The Ringer) pic.twitter.com/4OPRJdPn7A
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) August 5, 2020
Bam also makes his teammates better on the defensive end. He helps create those screens and set up blocked shots, as the other players help continue the defensive rhythm by grabbing boards and quickly moving into transition.
Milwaukee Bucks: Khris Middleton
As the highest-paid player on the team, some expectations have to be set and met well. Khris Middleton is talented with his ability to shoot and score for his size. However, he has to be that guy to help carry the load in situations where Antetokounmpo is prone to be shut down.
Middleton in the regular season averages 20.8 points, shooting 41.5 percent from three-point range. In the first round match-up against the Magic, his numbers were lower, averaging 15 points per game and shooting 33 percent from three.
It’s also important to note that although Antetokounmpo played a role in losing the Eastern Conference Finals against the Toronto Raptors, Middleton also didn’t have a strong presence in the series either. He averaged 13 points per game in that series and had two games where he scored less than 10 points. Orlando is nowhere near the kind of team Miami is, so Middleton has to have a strong game in this series for Milwaukee to succeed moving forward to the Conference Finals.
Perimeter Shooting Playing a Big Role in the Series
Both Miami and Milwaukee are teams that have size, as well as sharpshooters.
What makes Milwaukee dangerous is having big guys that can shoot. Middleton and Brook Lopez are the main big guys that can shoot from beyond the arc, averaging 37.5 and 36 percent from three-point range. There are also shooters in the frontcourt, like Wesley Matthews (42.9 percent), and George Hill (40 percent).
Miami, however, has much more efficient shooters on their roster. Goran Dragic shoots 41.4 percent from three on 7.3 three-point attempts. Duncan Robinson, the hottest shooter in the league, shoots 44.4 percent from three averaging 6.8 three-point attempts. The Heat are 5th in the league in three-point percentage, while Milwaukee is 6th.
NBA Playoffs Preview Final Prediction: Miami Heat in 7 Games
From the beginning of the season, Miami has proven over time that they can be a team that can pose a challenge to Milwaukee. They have a blue-collar leader in Jimmy Butler, Adebayo, a center that can do-it-all, as well as shooters like Robinson and rookie Tyler Herro. Game after game, Miami looks better and better; they look strong as a team and match up very well against the Bucks in every position.
Still, we can’t ignore the Bucks dominance in the East, all led by Antetokounmpo. His supporting cast does the best that they can with shooting and defending the glass. However, Antetokounmpo can be in the same situation as last year carrying the load, this time being worse. Miami knows how to defend and make it harder for players to perform at a high level when needed. They have the girth to test Milwaukee to a level they’ve never been tested before, thus pushing the series to an intensive seven games to move forward to the Conference Finals.
Our Eastern Conference Semifinals series with the NBA's top team begins Monday. #HEATTwitter how ya feeling?? pic.twitter.com/UKmxtwUMxp
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) August 29, 2020