Regular Season Series:
Through three games in the season series so far, the Bucks hold a 2-1 advantage, but don’t allow yourself to be misguided by this mark. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid have only squared off against each other in one of those contests. Given the first two games went in favour of the team with their All-Star present, lets focus in on what was a wild game three in Milwaukee.
The Bucks were without Malcolm Brogdon, whilst Jabari Parker was still working through his minute restriction, but it was all hands on deck otherwise, as both squads went toe to toe in front of a national tv audience. Giannis finished with 34 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, while for Philly, the white hot Dario Saric went 9-for-11 from the field to knock down 25 points. In a see-sawing affair, Milwaukee twice came back from a 19+ point deficit to round out 118-110 winners.
The final regular season match up will be the 82nd and last for both squads this coming Wednesday in Philadelphia, which ironically could determine whether or not they will square off in the first round.
Milwaukee v Philadelphia’s three-point shooting
There’s just no denying it, the Bucks defense struggles to defend the three-point shot. In the modern NBA, that’s a disastrous limitation to have. Unfortunately for Milwaukee, the Sixers boast a plethora of snipers from the outside. J.J Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Ersan Ilyasova, and Marco Belinelli pose a major threat to the often floundering Bucks defense. Five times this season the Bucks have given up 18+ three-point makes on 48 percent or greater shooting. Allow that to occur, and the Bucks will be in for a long series.
Giannis v Simmons
These two young stars of the league may not face each other in a one on one perspective, but their ability to score in the paint will be a key factor in determining who comes out on top in this series. Both players are a dominant force at the rim, knocking down 70+ percent of their shots in the restricted area. A regular tactic (that is often rendered useless) used by opposition defenses is to pack the paint and force those two to score from outside the paint. Whilst Simmons is yet attempt a single triple on the season, Giannis has begun to find some success from the mid range and beyond. Regardless of that fact, both teams know if their stars can get what they want at the basket, it’s going to go a long way towards their team coming out on top.
X-Factor Bucks: Middleton’s three-point shot
For a large part of the regular season, Khris Middleton struggled to find his usual stroke from the outside. A career 40 percent shooter from deep, Middleton had spent most of the season languishing in the low 30’s from that range. In March, Middleton began to find the range, and it has elevated his play to another level in what was already a career season. In 18 games through March and April so far, Khris has knocked down 39 of his 90 attempts from beyond the arc (43 percent). Being able to maintain that once typical smooth stroke from the outside will be vital to the Bucks chances.
X-Factor Sixers: The buy-out crew
The period post All-Star break is always an important time for teams looking to bolster their squad for the stretch run. The Philadelphia 76ers were able to add two very nice veteran pieces to their roster this season, in former long time Buck Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli. Adding a veteran presence to a young squad, both players are also dangerous shooters from three-point territory, areas most contending squads will always gleefully accept help when in the process of launching a playoff assault. Since joining the Sixers, Ersan has averaged 10 points on 34 percent shooting from deep, whilst Belinelli has knocked down 13 points per game on 38 percent from three. Handy acquisitions for sure.
Prediction: Bucks in seven
Who might be the most anxious Bucks personality of all during this series? It might just be Bucks part owner Wes Edens.
“Guys in Philly want to talk about the process, I’d rather talk about the results.”
That was the quote. At the time of publishing this preview, the Sixers sit seven games ahead of the Bucks in the standings, so one might suggest Eden’s dug himself a deep hole in the off-season. But the Bucks might just get one last chance to redeem both themselves and their owner, and they will stand a good chance. We’ve seen recently the Bucks ‘big four’ of Giannis, Middleton, Parker and Eric Bledsoe begin to gain chemistry at the right time. Those four alone pose one of the more intimidating offensive quartets in basketball, and with two full months of basketball together, they appear primed to light up the playoff scene.
The other notable storyline to watch will be the availability of Joel Embiid, after the All-Star big man suffered a orbital fracture in his face as a result of some unfortunate friendly fire from Markelle Fultz. The latest report suggests there is no timetable for return, but the original reported absence of two to four weeks post surgery would have Embiid returning early in the first round. Any games Embiid misses would obviously be a huge blow for Philadelphia and they will be desperately hoping he can return sooner rather than later.
Simmons and Embiid v Giannis and friends, what more could a basketball fan want?
The Bucks ability to nullify Embiid and Simmons in the paint will be vital, but I’ve got the Bucks causing the early upset, clinching the series in game seven in Philly.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus