Bucks – Heat Preview: Bucks look to avenge their bubble loss

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Bucks v Heat
Photo by ESPN

The Bucks begin their path to the NBA Championship against the Miami Heat. The Bucks enter this series thirsty for revenge after their poor performance against the Heat last year. The Bucks have the team to make it to the finals this year, but this series is the first test of their new team.

Matchup Details

The Game: Miami Heat (40-32) @ Milwaukee Bucks (46-26)

The Place: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The Time: Saturday, May 22nd, 1:00 PM CT

Telecast: ESPN

The Likely Starters

Bucks: Jrue Holiday – Donte DiVincenzo – Khris Middleton – Giannis Antetokounmpo – Brook Lopez

Heat: Kendrick Nunn – Duncan Robinson – Jimmy Butler – Trevor Ariza – Bam Adebayo

Injury Report

Bucks: Thanasis Antetokounmpo – OUT

Heat: Omer Yurtseven – Day to Day, Victor Oladipo – OUT

What to know about the Heat

Jimmy Butler leads the Heat
Photo by Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Heat finished the season as the 6th seed after starting 7-13 in their first 20 games. They struggled early but have put it together and will, once again, be a very formidable foe for the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Heat were able to slow down MVP Giannis last year, and it was a large reason as to how they won the series in five games. Miami is one of the better defensives teams in the league allowing 108 ppg (5th in the league) and posting a defensive rating of 111.2 (7th in the league). They have all the tools and players to slow Giannis down, with Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler. They will most likely look to use those two the same way as last year.

The Heat will be without Victor Oladipo as he suffered a season-ending injury in April. Since his injury, the Heat are 13-7 without Oladipo in the lineup. They are also 8-2 in their last 10 games.

What to know about the Bucks

Giannis to lead the Bucks over the Heat
Photo by Si.com

The Bucks saw their second consecutive 1 seed amount to nothing after falling to the Heat 4-1 in the Eastern Conference semi-finals last season. The Bucks have a new starting five adding Jrue Holiday via trade and promoting Donte Divincenzo from the bench to a starting role.

The addition of Jrue Holiday immediately makes the Bucks a better team than last year. He is the best two-way guard in the league and his offensive output has only gotten better as the season progressed. Having an elite defensive guard and 3PT shooter changes the dynamic the Bucks had when they had Eric Bledsoe.

Earlier in the season, the Bucks set an NBA record for 3-pointers made with 29, while shooting 57% from 3PT. In the Bucks’ three games against the Heat this season, they have averaged 48% from 3PT. Their worst percentage from 3PT against the Heat was 39%. If the trend continues with the Bucks shooting from 3 at a high level, they will have an advantage over the Heat.

Keys to the Game

Guarding the 3pt shot

The Bucks will be going up against a middle-of-the-pack 3PT shooting team but  Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson, Goran Dragic, and Kendrick Nunn could get hot at any moment. For the Bucks to win they need to limit the Heat from going on hot streaks from 3PT.

Who will step up?

The game plan for the Heat will be to slow Giannis down. Who will step up for the Bucks if the wall is slowing Giannis down? All signs point to Jrue Holiday being that guy, as he has been playing lights out since the All-Star break, averaging nearly 20 points and 7 assists on 51-41-80 splits.

For the Bucks to take the game and the series they will need more than just Holiday to step up. Bryn Forbes and Pat Connaughton will have to become consistent from the 3PT line to give the bench a major boost. Both have shot lights out from 3PT throughout the season, but there have been stretches of games where they struggled mightily.

Of course, the number one person that everyone wants to see step up is Khris Middleton. If he can step up and find consistency throughout the playoffs the sky is the limit for the Bucks. More in-depth analysis of Khris Middleton down below.

Giannis hitting his Free Throws

In last year’s contest against the Heat, Giannis got to the line 10 times per game but converted just over half of his free throw attempts (53.7%). This season Giannis has been shooting 68.5% from the line on 9.5 attempts a game.

Fortunately, all signs point to Giannis shooting well from the line as he has been shooting, as he has been shooting 72.5% from the line since the All-Star break. Just that change would give the Bucks a two-point swing.

Players to Watch

Khris Middleton

Khris Middleton
Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Despite the game plan being slow Giannis down, he still posted a double-double. Jrue Holiday is Jrue Holiday and will be a massive playoff upgrade over Eric Bledsoe. We know what those two will bring to the table. Khris Middleton is the key to victory, not only in this game but throughout the series.

It is no secret that Khris has had his ups and downs in the playoffs the last few seasons. He needs to up his game, both offensively and defensively. As a SF, he will be tasked with guarding the Heat’s best player, Jimmy Butler. Khris is a great defender, but he has struggled this year, going from a 103 dRTG in the 2019-2020 season to a 113 dRTG this season.

Milwaukee will be hard for anyone to stop if Middleton plays well.  Khris Middleton, on his game, is one of the most lethal shooters in the league. When you pair that up with one of the most dominant forces in Giannis Antetokounmpo and the best defending guard in the league in Jrue Holiday, it just speaks championship.

Middleton needs to play how he played in game 1 against the Heat last season. He dropped 28 points on 50% FG and 50% 3PT. Shooting like that will force the Heat to back off from guarding the paint, allowing Giannis to do his thing. The Bucks’ entire playoff run could depend on how well Khris plays.

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Duncan Robinson

Duncan Robinson
Photo by CBS sports

Robinson struggled against the Bucks last season, averaging only 9 points and shooting 35% from 3PT, which is well below his career average of 42%. He has shot nearly 41% from 3PT this season. He has also given the Heat a sense of consistency as he has appeared and started in every game this season.

Robinson will be matched up against Donte Divincenzo for many matchups. Donte has struggled defensively after showing All-Defensive team potential his first two seasons. Robinson has the ability to shoot from nearly anywhere on the floor, and if Donte struggles defensively in the series, it will be up to Robinson to take advantage of that. He has all the intangibles to give the Bucks fits.

If Donte struggles against Robinson, we could see Jrue switching on to him. Being guarded by Jrue will make Robinson’s job very difficult.

Prediction: Bucks 105 – Heat 98

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