Another eventful campaign is on the horizon
By Tyler Job
Fresh off just its fifth 60-win season in franchise history, the Milwaukee Bucks will now focus its attention on the upcoming 2019-2020 schedule.
The Bucks last season did much more than just win 60 games. It was a remarkable year in all standards for a team that had not enjoyed much success in nearly two decades. For the first time since 2001, Milwaukee last year won the central division title, got past the first round in the playoffs, and ultimately reached the Eastern Conference Finals before falling to the eventual NBA champions, the Toronto Raptors, by a 4-2 series score.
2018-19 was also head coach Mike Budenholzer’s first year at the helm, and exceeded many people’s expectations by helping Milwaukee not only accomplish all of those aforementioned feats, but also giving the Bucks the highest point-differential in the NBA.
And after it was all said and done, Budenholzer won Coach of the Year for the second time in his career, Giannis Antetokounmpo earned league MVP, and Jon Horst took home Executive of the Year.
Both Bucks and NBA fans have very high expectations for Milwaukee this upcoming season, especially since Horst retained the majority of his core players while also adding Robin Lopez, Wes Matthews, Kyle Korver and Dragan Bender in free agency.
While the Bucks take the next eight months preparing for their 82 opponents, let’s take a look at the 10 biggest games Milwaukee will encounter this season, with number one being the most important.
#10: Oct. 26, home opener vs. Miami Heat
For any team, the home opener is always one of the biggest games of the year. The players test the waters a little bit, the crowd is rowdy, and coaches get a first glance on each team. For the Bucks, it’s against a Miami Heat team they’ve struggled with for the last several years, even though Milwaukee won the season series last year.
Oct. 26 will mark Giannis’ return to Fiserv Forum in a game that counts since falling to the Raptors in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and one would think he will come out in full force and, thus, energize the rest of the squad.
Milwaukee should not underestimate this upcoming Heat team. Despite losing Dwyane Wade, Josh Richardson and Hassan Whiteside, they gained Jimmy Butler and Meyers Leonard in free agency, and took Milwaukee native Tyler Herro at number 13 in the draft. Also, Goran Dragic will be ready to go after being hurt for a significant portion last season. They are a borderline playoff team.
But the Bucks on paper have superior talent, so this should be a game Milwaukee wins.
#9: Dec. 11 vs. New Orleans Pelicans
This game is going to be fun. Why? Well, because we are all going to witness Giannis vs. Zion Williamson for the first time ever on the Greek Freak’s home floor. That is about as exciting as it gets.
This will be one of the 10 Bucks games on ESPN, and I guarantee that most of the talk is going to be about Giannis vs. Zion. But you can’t blame them, as they are two superstars on two respective teams.
The Pelicans have a plethora of talent aside from Zion as well, because I’m sure you remember that they acquired Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and draft picks in that monster trade with Anthony Davis. New Orleans still has Jrue Holiday, and signed sharp shooter JJ Redick in free agency.
I’m really looking forward to this one, and you should be too. It is going to be fun all around.
#8: Oct. 30 at Boston Celtics
Milwaukee has several key games early in their schedule, and this contest just adds to the list. This will be the Bucks’ fourth game out of 82, and this will be their first time playing a game at the TD Garden since Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in early May. Oh, and this game will be televised on ESPN.
The Bucks and Celtics have resurrected quite the rivalry throughout the last couple seasons, with each team trading playoff series wins [Boston in 2018, and Milwaukee in 2019]. This game will undoubtedly keep that rivalry going.
Giannis and company will see a little different Boston squad than last time these two fared. The Celtics moved on from Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, but brought in Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter in free agency. They still have Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who usually play well against Milwaukee. But the Bucks kept those two quiet in the playoffs last year.
Nonetheless, this is a game against a classic opponent very early in the season, so it should be an interesting contest.
#7: Oct. 24, season opener at Houston Rockets
Talk about kicking off the season with a bang. Here’s another big, early game for the Bucks, this time against James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and the rest of the Houston Rockets. It takes place at the Toyota Center, and will be the first of 10 games Milwaukee will play on TNT.
The reigning MVP will take on two former MVPs on the same squad, and a lot of people will be keeping a close eye on how Giannis will handle the hostile environment against the reloaded Rockets.
This contest will put the Bucks to the test, perhaps sooner than they would have hoped. But for a team with NBA championship aspirations, this will be just one of many tough road games Milwaukee goes through. And for them, a win against a very good team in the season opener on the road would be a big moral victory for Coach Bud’s team.
#6: Jan. 24, at Charlotte Hornets in Paris
How about this for one of the NBA’s smallest market teams: the Bucks are facing the Charlotte Hornets in the NBA’s first-ever game in Paris. Out of all teams, Milwaukee was chosen as one of the representatives. The league is starting to recognize how good the Bucks truly are.
As for the game itself, Milwaukee should come out on top. While there are never any “easy” games in the NBA, the Hornets are in full rebuild mode and their best player is probably Terry Rozier. Other notables include Nicholas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Miles Bridges, and P.J. Washington, the 2019 draftee out of Kentucky.
But Charlotte is taking on a loaded Bucks team, and Giannis is going to be the center of attention when these two clash.
#5: Nov. 8 at Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz are the most underrated contending team for next year, and combined with the fact that Milwaukee has not won a game in Salt Lake City since October 2001, this is a huge game for the Bucks.
Milwaukee nearly, and should have, beaten the Jazz last season in Salt Lake City. But it blew a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter and Donovan Mitchell went off for 46 points.
Nov. 8 is the Bucks’ next chance, but this contest will be no cakewalk whatsoever. While Milwaukee is completely stacked with players, so is Utah. It has Mitchell, reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, and stud 3-point shooter Joe Ingles. Don’t forget, the Jazz traded for Mike Conley from the Memphis Grizzlies after letting go of Ricky Rubio, and also signed another very good 3-point shooter in Bojan Bogdanovic.
The Jazz are the only NBA team without a clear-cut superstar, but are built up with a plethora of All-Star caliber players. This game can go either way, and should be kept in the minds throughout the Bucks community from now until this game occurs.
#4: Nov. 2 vs. Toronto Raptors
When the Raptors visit town in early November, the Bucks just might take this game personally.
The meeting at Fiserv Forum between these two will be the first since Toronto defeated Milwaukee in Game 5 of the Conference Finals. The Bucks wished they had that game back, as it would be the last time they saw their home court in the playoffs.
Some of you might think this game is not worthy of being top five, some might think it should be higher, but the main reason is because the Raptors lost Kawhi Leonard in free agency. If he stayed, this game would most certainly be number one.
The Bucks are ultimately more talented than Toronto, although the Raptors will still be a playoff-caliber team. But I expect Milwaukee to come out full of energy, and in the end, the Bucks are going to out-talent the Raptors.
#3: Dec. 19 vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Assuming everyone is healthy, Bucks fans will finally get an early Christmas present and see LeBron James at Fiserv Forum in a TNT game. As most people know, LeBron was kept out of last season’s game in Milwaukee due to an injury.
This time around, it won’t be just LeBron coming to town. Anthony Davis is coming with too, pitting together two teams that could potentially see each other again next June.
Witnessing a regular season game between two teams with very deep playoff expectations is always intriguing. It’s another thing when three top-10 players will be all on the court at the same time.
Jason Kidd is one of head coach Frank Vogel’s assistants, and for those who kept track, Giannis became quite close with Kidd when he was Milwaukee’s head coach. One would think that the Greek Freak will have Kidd on his mind at some point. It will be very interesting to see how they respond to each other throughout the course of the contest.
This game is going to be a battle until the final buzzer sounds, and it is going to be a great test for both teams. It could go either way, but it is going to be very fun to watch.
#2: Nov. 6 at Los Angeles Clippers
Coach Bud’s team will never forget what Kawhi Leonard did to them in the playoffs last year, shutting down the Bucks through his clutch offense and stifling defense, especially on Giannis.
On Nov. 6, Giannis and company’s quest for redemption begins against the almighty duo of Leonard and Paul George at the Staples Center. Similar to the Lakers, the Clippers are a squad with very deep playoff expectations and this game could possibly be a preview of the 2020 NBA Finals.
There is really not much more that needs to be said, aside from the fact that this will be one of Milwaukee’s toughest games all year. The fact this game takes place early in the season makes it that much more exciting.
If you watch, get ready to feel like you’re in a playoff game, because I’m sure the Clippers crowd will make it feel that way.
#1: Christmas Day at Philadelphia 76ers
Bright lights. Big stage. It is a Christmas Day showdown between the Eastern Conference’s top two teams. It doesn’t get bigger than that.
After Bucks fans are finished opening up their presents, those watching this game on ABC are witnessing a free gift.
It’s always an entertaining sight whenever Giannis and Joel Embiid compete against each other, as they are two of the top NBA players 25 and under. In a 76ers victory on St. Patrick’s Day, Giannis registered a career-high 52 points, while Embiid had an astounding 40. The Bucks returned the favor in early April, as Giannis put up 45 points while Embiid had 34. That was also the same night Milwaukee clinched the top seed in the East. There is no doubt Giannis and Embiid will put on another classic on the biggest holiday of the year.
The Christmas Day game will also be the first meeting between the Bucks and 76ers during the 2019-20 campaign, but it will be the continuation of another entertaining rivalry between two of the NBA’s top teams.