Well, we have arrived at what might be the most anticipated playoffs in Milwaukee Bucks history. But if this postseason really does live up to expectations, that would mean getting rid of the Detroit Pistons in short order.
Biggest reason to worry: Return of Playoff Thon?
Blake Griffin is most likely out for Game 1. Beyond that, nobody seems to know. To no fault of his own, he has a past with injuries around this time of year. For however long Griffin is out, the Pistons will have to lean on Thon Maker more than they’re probably comfortable with. Or … maybe not. Playoff Thon coming back and being used against the Bucks would be a cruel joke by the basketball gods, indeed.
(For the record, I’m rooting for Playoff Thon. I think best-of-his-career Thon going up against Giannis is saucy enough to make the series legitimately interesting with or without Blake.)
It’ll be interesting to see if Maker took his Playoff Thon powers talents with him across Lake Michigan.
Biggest reason not to worry: Giannis
There are about four or five players in the NBA that have a legit case to be considered the best. Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of them. This is the first time the Bucks have entered the playoffs with an MVP-candidate since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) led them into the 1970-71 postseason.
The notion that games slow down in the postseason is a little outdated because so many teams rely on pace as part of its identity. But the intensity does go up, especially on defense. Giannis’ game translates well to playoff basketball. So does his on-court personality.
Outside of Giannis, the Bucks just have too much for the Pistons to handle. Expect at least one big game from Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton apiece this series.
X-Factor: Griffin’s health
Not many people are anticipating this going more than five games. If Blake is back for Game 2, he’s good enough to swing a game by himself. Despite all their injuries, the last-minute shuffling in the East had to please the Bucks, especially after seeing what the Magic and Nets did yesterday.
Milwaukee was 19 games better than Detroit this season. And unlike the past few seasons, the Bucks head into the playoffs without a distinct coaching disadvantage.
Intriguing subplot going forward: Teams trying to run Lopez off the floor
One of the more interesting things to watch for going forward is when – and how often – teams choose to go small and try to run Brook Lopez off the floor. However, the Pistons need to rely so much on Andre Drummond that Lopez can play as much as Budenholzer thinks he can last.
The Pistons can’t really go small because they need to play at least one of Drummond and/or Maker, meaning the tempo won’t get away from Lopez. However, if Budenholzer decides to play Giannis some at the five – especially while Maker is on the court with Drummond off – it could tip the Bucks’ plan as far as how much we’ll be seeing center Giannis this postseason.
Prediction: Bucks in 5
Detroit gets a game at home to avoid going down in four. Otherwise, Milwaukee cruises in this one. Taking care of business relatively early means the Bucks can scout for the second round and try to get as many people (Brogdon) healthy as possible.
The Bucks swept the regular season series between these two 4-0. It’s highly possible this ends the same. But there’s also a long history of desperate eight seeds riding a hot hand to a single first-round win before going quietly into that good night.