After a long regular season full of snaps and strains, travails and terrors and 715,973 canned arena demands that “ev-ry-bo-dy clap yo hands,” the NBA’s postseason is set to tip off this weekend. With that in place, the minds behind Ball Don’t Lie are going to preview each first-round series, with Kelly Dwyer going against character for a more genial take, Dan Devine bringing his inimitable mixture of both order and bedlam, along with Eric Freeman’s legendary look inside the reputations of some of the series’ key fixtures.
We continue with the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks.
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Kelly Dwyer’s Guide Vocal
There will be some NBA observers who cannot wait to remind you that the Milwaukee Bucks, for whatever reason, seem to have the Miami Heat’s number. They will infer that, amongst all the mediocre NBA teams out there (and after finishing the season at 38-44, smartening up the Bucks to the ranks of the mediocre is pushing it), that Milwaukee has a good chance of extending their first-round deal with the defending champs.
These people are incorrect, in their glassy-eyed, half-full hopes.
This isn’t some ploy to draw eyes toward what could be a snoozer of a one-sided series, but just the natural optimism that comes from talking yourself into thinking that a solid basketball team full of pretty good players could have a chance to manufacture a competitive series against one of the better NBA teams of all time. Milwaukee comes correct with two potent scorers in the backcourt in Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, waterbugs who would seem to be oblivious to LeBron James’ defensive whims in their hotter moments, and the Bucks feature enough plucky frontcourt athletes to match the Heat’s small-ball attack.
This is all bollocks, of course. Because it took the Heat just the second half of the 2012-13 season (starting on Jan. 30, for the defending champs) to rack up as many wins as the Bucks have in a campaign that started on Nov. 2. The idea of a “gentleman’s sweep,” a nouveau term designating a one-sided five-game series, seems like the safest way to go until you realize that the Bucks have to actually beat Miami while working in Milwaukee sometime on either next Thursday or next Sunday. The ancient NBA axiom that holds downing any pro team four times in four tries as some sort of monumental accomplishment still sustains — but let’s not forget that the 2012-13 Heat are a walking, talking monumental accomplishment.
An accomplishment working with assurances, and confidence, as the Heat take to games 83 through 86. Milwaukee doesn’t have that same luxury, and while I don’t like playing a pop psychologist and anticipating a frayed team, all the signs are there.
Jennings will be a restricted free agent this summer, and the Bucks have given him no assurances that they’ll match any offer he receives on the open market, much less offer their young point guard a contract extension full-stop. Ellis could decide to test a seller’s market this summer after a fantastic March (April? Not so much) and opt out of the last year of his contract. And the Bucks front office has made no lasting commitment to interim head coach Jim Boylan after his 22-28 run as Bucks lead man — a step down from the 16-16 work that Scott Skiles turned in to start the year.
This isn’t to say that the Bucks will fall apart and go into conniptions as a 24-foot chucking heap the first time Dwyane Wade springs from the weak side to block a layup attempt. Still, it could mean that Milwaukee may have issues keeping concentration against a Heat team that demands you play just about every possession perfectly on either side of the ball, lest one slip-up (a bad pass on offense, a turned head on defense) result in that eventual easy dunk.
The Bucks certainly have enough talent, depth, and temerity to possibly take a game or even two from the Heat over the course of the first round. That’s the case with most NBA teams, though, and that didn’t stop Miami from peeling off a 37-2 record to finish their regular season. Miami knocked off 37 ducks in 39 tries, including a series of lame-duck teams that the Bucks somewhat resemble.
If a 3-0 deficit arises, it’s worth expecting that these Bucks will start to look extremely lame duck, in anticipation of what could be a tumultuous offseason. That timing is irrespective of the Heat’s influence. Miami’s just around to make things worse.
PREDICTION: Heat in 4.
Contribute to the Chaos with Dan Devine
For as much as we try to study and analyze every aspect of NBA life these days, in every playoff series, there are unpredictable elements — a player, a tendency, a set, a decision, etc. — that can tilt a moment on its ear, change the complexion of a game or even determine the outcome of a series. For each matchup during this postseason, Dan Devine will look for those X-factors most likely to wreak havoc over the next seven games.
(The phrase "Contribute to the chaos" comes from the song "Twin Size Mattress” by the band The Front Bottoms, which Dan likes a lot.)
Miami Heat: Just keep doing what you’re doing. All of it.
When you’re as good as Miami is, and facing an opponent as likely to be overwhelmed as Milwaukee is, X-factors don’t really enter into the equation too much. In terms of chaos, though? Miami’s standard operating gear ought to bring more than enough chaos for the Bucks.
Miami’s tops in the league in overall points scored per possession, effective field goal percentage (which accounts for the fact that 3-pointers are worth more than 2-pointers) and True Shooting percentage (which also factors in the value of free throws), according to NBA.com’s stat tool.
They’re No. 1 in points produced on isolation possessions, post-ups, plays finished by roll men in the pick-and-roll game, spot-up shots and off-ball cuts, and No. 2 in points produced in transition, according to Synergy Sports Technology’s play-tracking data.
They’re No. 1 in the league in field-goal percentage inside the restricted area, No. 1 in the league in corner 3-point attempts, No. 2 in the league in 3-point percentage, and are capable of compromising even elite defenses with movement, precision and preternatural gifts.