Before I have readers start questioning my sanity, I want to start this article by pointing out the obvious, the Golden State Warriors are still the team to beat in the NBA. I can make a strong case that a couple of NBA teams could push them in a 7 game series but I want to be crystal clear that I wouldn’t bet against them barring injury to Steph or KD. Now that we have established that I am not a delusional home team fan that believes the Bucks should be the favorite simply based on their 1st half record being superior to the Warriors, let’s dissect why the Milwaukee Bucks should at least be viewed as a threat.
In order for the “Greek Freak” led Milwaukee Bucks to obtain the privilege of a clash with the 3 time champion Warriors they must first navigate through an extremely competitive Eastern Conference. First things first, are the Bucks the best team in the East this year? I know everyone is entitled to their opinion, but solely going off the information we are about to discuss they are the best team in the East. At the All-Star break the Bucks 43-12 record is the best in the NBA despite having one of the toughest schedules. The Raptors, Nuggets, and Warriors are the three teams directly below the Bucks for best record in the NBA and the Bucks have already wrapped up their season series with all three teams. How did Milwaukee fare in these matchups? They went 6-2 against the other top three teams and were victorious in all 4 road games.
Let’s move away from their record against the best in the NBA and look at how they have fared against the best in the East. The East is very top heavy this year with the top five teams (Bucks, Raptors, Pacers, Celtics, and 76ers) being leaps and bounds ahead of every other team. The Bucks currently own a 7-3 record against the best of the East with one of their losses coming in Boston on a night when the Celtics set a franchise record with 24 three point shots made. While the game counts as a loss in the standings I don’t frown on the Bucks for losing by 4 points, on the road, when a Celtics team scores 72 points from behind the arc on a record setting night.
If you aren’t sold on the Bucks odds based on how they have stacked up against elite competition this year, no worries, I have a few other reasons to buy now. The Bucks lead the NBA in +/- by a huge margin this year. Most of you won’t know this, but I spend my life evaluating sports from a DFS/Sports betting angle. Many people in my field will lean on the +/- statistic as the top overall predictor of future performances. The Bucks have already won over 30 games by double digits this year and only lost by over 11 points twice. That’s not a misprint, in 57 games they have only lost by over 11 points twice. My final point I will advocate to support my hypothesis that the Bucks are the best team in the East will veer away from tangible facts just a touch. This team loves to play together and fights for one another. The biggest difference between the Celtics and the Bucks right now (besides the fact we have the Greek Freak) is one team plays together and know their roles, while the other team is made up of a bunch of individuals. Don’t ask me about this, refer to Boston Celtics Forward Marcus Morris who called out his team for this. The Milwaukee Bucks have not lost back to back games this year or to the same team twice. I find this to be amazing, and it starts with MVP candidate Giannis who brings an extra kind of nasty any time he finds his team in one of these difficult situations. The most recent example is the last game prior to the All-Star break when Milwaukee came from behind in Indiana to knock of the current 3 seed, the Indiana Pacers. I watched this game from start to end and during the 3rd quarter I gave the Bucks very little shot to come back and win this one. You could see the tired legs on Milwaukee as jump shots from everyone were routinely far too short or far too long. With just a few minutes to go in the 4th quarter, the Bucks mustered up the last bit of energy they had and shut down the Pacers with their #1 rated defense. Instead of settling for jump shots, Giannis and the crew attacked the rim with reckless abandon and it culminated in another Bucks win, solidifying a 43-14 first half record, tops in the entire NBA for the first half.
For the Bucks to be a threat to knock off the Warriors we need both teams to make it to the Finals. We’ve already discussed why the Bucks should be the favorite to come out of the East, now let’s break down why the Warriors will come out of the West. Everyone ready for a serious knowledge bomb? Here it is, the Golden State Warriors are really really good. Barring injury the Warriors are and will be a heavy favorite to run through the West, as they should be.
Despite the Warriors greatness, why could the Bucks upset them in the Finals? For my money it starts with the fact the Milwaukee Bucks are the hungrier team. The Warriors have been to the Finals for four straight seasons with three of them ending in championships. The Bucks are an extremely talented and cohesive unit on the rise. I don’t find at all unrealistic to assume they are the less complacent of the two teams. Earlier this season we already noticed a rift between Draymond and KD revolving around KD’s impending free agency. With the Free Agency Frenzy located shortly after the Finals I find it extremely reasonable that some of these impending free agents (Boogie, Klay, and KD) could have their heads elsewhere for brief moments of the Finals. These brief periods could be all Milwaukee needs to pounce and pull out a game or two they wouldn’t have normally won.
Time to address my favorite part of sports and let’s look at how these two squads matchup with one another. As great as KD is, it’s Steph Curry that makes the Warriors go. He is the long distance, Baby Faced Assassin that will rip your heart out with long range three pointers that no one else will even attempt. This is where the Bucks have a secret weapon who is now vastly underrated by the public. Eric “The Bled Show” Bledsoe has been shutting down top tier PG’s all year and he is the number one reason that Curry is only 12 of 29 from the floor vs the Bucks this year. Just to be clear, I am not making the case that Bledsoe is better than Curry. He just isn’t. He is however a feisty defender that will make things much harder on Curry than your average PG. The flip side of the equation is Bledsoe has outplayed Curry this year in their individual matchups and is far too strong for Curry to slow him down and keep him out of the paint.
Kevin Durant is coming off back to back Finals MVP’s and has been the number one reason the Warriors have been able to crush the Cavs in back to back Finals series. Okay, if I’m being honest the fact LeBron James led terrible Cavs teams to the Finals in back to back years is the real number one reason but that is an article for a different day. How has KD fared vs the Bucks this year? Not well, he has shot 9 of 29 and averaged only 14 PPG in their season series. The Bucks have the number one rated defense so far this season and the Greek Freak is one of the few athletes who has the size and skill to make life tough on Kevin Durant. Durant has always been a front-runner, when times were tough in Oklahoma City he folded quickly. He’s been great the past two years in the Finals when the Warriors faced vastly inferior opponents and have been up the whole series. What happens if they go down a game or two? Will those palms get sweaty again? Will he start turning the ball over again like he did when the Thunder choked away the chance to beat Golden State? No way to know for sure but I’d love to see it play out. While Giannis should be able to make things harder on Durant than normal, he is simply too strong and fast for KD to contend with, and I assume we will see the Warriors have to get real creative in an attempt to stifle the Freak.
One last time, I want to reiterate the fact the Warriors are the team to beat. Until we see someone knock off the greatest team we’ve ever seen this will not change. However, the Bucks team as presently constructed has the best shot in the NBA to do this. We’ve barely touched on the fact that Nikola Mirotic now adds a 3rd seven foot player to their arsenal. Mirotic and Lopez together have the potential to be a lethal combination. Having twin towers like this that can pull the bigger defenders away from the hoop and let Bledose, Brogdon, and Giannis get to the rim at will is something I can’t wait to watch!
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