The regular season has been tough for Milwaukee and Miami, but the Bucks have clearly fared better than their Florida counterparts. The two teams have indeed been weighed down by injuries throughout the season, with the absence of Khris Middleton, who will only have been in full possession of his means for a large third of the season on the Bucks side, and a massacre continues for Miami.
The double confrontation between the two teams in mid-January sums up their respective adventures well with the absences of the Middleton-Antetokounmpo pair for Milwaukee and the Lowry-Herro tandem for Miami.
Mike Budenholzer’s group thus achieved a real feat by finishing in first place in the Eastern Conference, marking their domination in 2023 with a series of 19 wins out of 20 games in order to take the best of Boston at the top of the pyramid, in the wake of an exceptional Giannis Antetokounmpo.
For its part, Miami managed to save its season by snatching the last jump seat for the post-season, relying on its catchy team identity, which never lets up, like the last three minutes of Game 2. of play-in won against Chicago.
Still, the coming confrontation once again looks to their disadvantage. The two teams have met twice in the last three playoff campaigns, and Miami has only managed to win one game. Will the Floridians manage to do better this year? Not sure…
PRESENTATION OF THE BUCKS
Holders: Jrue Holiday, Grayson Allen, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez
The replacements: Goran Dragic, Jevon Carter, Pat Connaughton, Wesley Matthews, Joe Ingles, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Marjon Beauchamp, Bobby Portis, Meyers Leonard
The coach: Mike Budenholzer
As long as the Bucks stay in a similar setup to 2021, with the Holiday-Middleton-Antetokounmpo trio and an equally effective Brook Lopez on both sides of the court, the Wisconsin franchise will have the arguments to join in the title fight. .
If they were not really able to benefit from the regular season to build their collective “good habits” dear to Giannis Antetokounmpo, the fault of each other’s injuries, everyone should find their role during the playoffs, with the opportunity for the group to increase in power over the laps, provided they start well on this first series against Miami.
– Defense. Fourth-best team in the league for defensive efficiency (109.3 points conceded out of 100 possessions on average), Mike Budenholzer’s team has the ability to smother its opponents thanks to choice individuals, starting with Jrue Holiday, a leech whose the role will be, this year again, not to be neglected. There is also Giannis Antetokounmpo, his stature and his athletic dimensions, but also Brook Lopez, counter machine and candidate for the title of best defender of the year. Other elements like Khris Middleton or Wes Matthews give this team a defensive profile that they are able to activate at any time if the attack does not follow.
– A well-distributed Big Three. Ensuring the balance of its forces in presence is not such an easy task. We see it in particular with the Young-Murray pair in Atlanta, Kuzma-Porzingis in Washington, George-Leonard at the Clippers and finally (and above all) Doncic-Irving in Dallas. But the Bucks were able to ensure that their main weapons complement each other by recruiting Jrue Holiday, who took the team to a new level. Alongside a reference 1 position on both sides of the floor, Milwaukee can indeed rely on the science of Khris Middleton on posed play, capable of animating the wings and the extraordinary athletic dimension of Giannis Antetokounmpo to unlock complicated situations. A versatility in the profiles which offers a certain stability to coach Budenholzer, able to orient his choices according to the opponent.
– The bench. The armada has something to impress between a complete experienced leader like Goran Dragic who has come to reinforce a beautiful “second-unit” in which Bobby Portis acts as leader, and whose role is, for him too, not to be taken the slight. Snipers such as Jevon Carter, Pat Connaughton and Wes Matthews are also capable of dealing damage, while Joe Ingles immediately fell into the mold with his game intelligence and toughness.
– The health of Khris Middleton. The winger has been walking on eggshells all season with wrist and knee injuries that have plagued his regular season. A new knee pain placed him back in the infirmary on April 5, weighing him down once again. Even if he should be handed over for the start of the playoffs, his health will remain a major concern throughout the Milwaukee campaign and could even influence his career.
– The half-court game. The main mission for the opponents of the Bucks is to manage to contain their transition game as much as possible, with Giannis Antetokounmpo capable of swallowing half the field in three strides. On half-court, this is where the “Greek Freak” and by extension Milwaukee, is the least comfortable.
PRESENTATION OF THE HEAT
Holders: Gabe Vincent, Tyler Herro, Max Strus, Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo
The replacements: Kyle Lowry, Duncan Robinson, Victor Oladipo, Caleb Martin, Haywood Highsmith, Jamal Cain, Udonis Haslem, Kevin Love, Omer Yurtseven, Cody Zeller, Orlando Robinson
Absent : Nikola Jovic
The coach: Erik Spoelstra
The Heat also struggled with injuries, and unlike the Bucks, never managed to find their stride. The first month of competition placed Erik Spoelstra’s training with their backs to the wall and they stood out until the end for their irregularity, capable of winning a match in Philly between two defeats in Charlotte and Orlando. Jimmy Butler has often been forced to play savior, and despite reinforcements from Kevin Love and Cody Zeller in the key, Miami has had to hang on to live up to its tough and sticky team ethos. We should also note the unreplaced departure of a player like PJ Tucker, not to mention the situation of Duncan Robinson, who became an outcast one year after signing a five-year, $90 million contract… So many inconsistencies that have caused the Pat Riley franchise.
– Experience. Finalist in 2020 in the “bubble”, defeated in Game 7 of the conference final in 2022 after a last missed shot from Jimmy Butler, the Heat remain an experienced and difficult team to maneuver. Whether it’s Lowry and Love, NBA champions, or Butler and Herro, finalists, they are used to big meetings.
– The Kaseya Center. Behind the top 4 in the Eastern Conference, Miami has the best record at home with 27 wins for 14 losses. It’s better than the Knicks, the Nets and Atlanta, and it may matter in the playoffs. As in play-in against Chicago, the “White Hot Army” is just waiting to get fired up! Provided you come to the stands because we have often seen empty seats this season, and again on Friday evening…
– The attack. The Heat have been laborious on offense this season: 25th team in the league in offensive efficiency (110.4 points scored on average over 100 possessions), 25th best shooting percentage, 27th in 3-point address… Miami also had the lowest-scoring offense in the division (averaged 109.5 points per game, even Detroit did better). So many statistical elements that make the Heat an intruder in the playoff landscape this season.
– Inconstancy. Number 1 in the Eastern Conference last season, with almost the same squad, the Heat are wildly irregular, as if the players were choosing their matches… Like their three leaders, Adebayo, Herro and even Butler against the Hawks, this Heat lacks the regularity to chain performances, and at the same time find confidence. An inconstancy that we find in the shots where this team, however equipped with good shooters, does not manage to sanction at 3-points.
THE KEY TO THE SERIES
– The defense on Giannis Antetokounmpo. This is shaping up to be mission impossible for Floridians! In theory, it will take two imperatives to achieve this: cut the “Greek Freak” of the ball on the transition game, and armor the racket to prevent it as much as possible from venturing there, even if it means leaving spaces on the exteriors. This is why defending on the Bucks looks like a permanent headache from which the Heat will not deviate.
January 12: Heat – Bucks (108-102)
January 14: Heat – Bucks (111-95)
February 5: bucks – Heat (123-115)
February 24: bucks – Heat (128-99)
It would take a feat for the Heat to manage to rival the Bucks on this series, although uncertainties over the health of the Allen-Connaughton-Middleton trio could help level the opposition. Because on paper, Milwaukee seems to have once again all the weapons to dominate the debates, with an additional Big Three, an essential Brook Lopez and “role players” able to complicate the task of Floridians.
Two years ago, Miami was swept away by the Bucks after a complicated season after the adventure of the “Bubble”. The context seems similar this season, with a place in the playoffs snatched in extremis by the Heat, and it will take a new exploit so that the Floridians do not suffer the same fate.
Game 1: in Milwaukee, Sunday, April 16 (9:30 p.m.)
Game 2: in Milwaukee, Wednesday, April 19 (03:00, Wednesday night through Thursday)
Game 3: in Miami, Saturday, April 22 (1:30 a.m., Saturday night through Sunday)
Game 4: in Miami, Monday, April 24 (01:00, Monday night to Tuesday)
Game 5*: in Milwaukee, Wednesday, April 26 (TBD, Wednesday night through Thursday)
Game 6*: in Miami, Friday, April 28 (to be determined, Friday night to Saturday)
Game 7*: in Milwaukee, Sunday, April 29
* If necessary.