The top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks are slated to take on the fourth-seed Miami Heat in the second round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs. Game 1 is scheduled for Monday night. The Heat had little trouble with an undermanned Indiana Pacers squad in the first round, sweeping them in four games. The Bucks struggled to start the first round, dropping the first game against the Orlando Magic before coming around and finishing off their opponent in five games.
As predictions begin to pour in for Heat-Bucks, it's become fairly clear that Miami is a very popular upset pick to take down Milwaukee. Seven of the 18 experts at ESPN threw their lot in with the Heat to win the series, which is a big number for a 1 vs. 4 matchup in the playoffs, and especially when considering the Bucks were the best team in the NBA pretty much wire-to-wire this season with Defensive Player of the Year and likely two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the way.
It is, though, easy to understand why. The Bucks took care of business in Round 1 but were far from the absurdly-dominant team they were for most of the 2019-20 season. The Heat were clicking and won every game by at least nine points in their first-round matchup. But looking deeper, out of all the teams left in the East, it feels like Miami has the best chance to take down the league's best team in these playoffs.
The Bucks were the best overall defensive team in the NBA this year and have the best defender in the NBA on their roster. A lot of that success comes from the individual talent on the roster, but a good chunk can also be attributed to Mike Budenholzer's scheme. Milwaukee is willing to let teams take three-pointers and funnel all other action to the rim, where either Antetokounmpo or Brook Lopez will be waiting. It worked quite well, as the Bucks ranked eighth overall in the league by giving up only 108 points per game and led the NBA with a defensive rating of 102.
But that scheme can be taken advantage of by opponents, especially in Miami's case. The Bucks gave up 39 three-point attempts per game this season, the most of any team in the league. Three-point percentage can vary quite a bit from game to game, and the Bucks are so good everywhere else that living and dying on the opposing team's ability to make three-pointers is a viable strategy. Against the Heat, it will be a taller task.
Despite running most of their offense through Jimmy Butler, a great player but far from an elite shooter, the Heat were second in the league in three-point percentage this season, coming in at 37.9 percent. They attempted 35 per game, a number that will surely rise when facing a defense designed to give up three-pointers. Miami will get their three-point attempts, but it's about maintaining that level of efficiency on increased opportunities.
With the roster they plan to trot out, the chances of that happening are pretty good. Out of the seven players who have received at least 20 minutes per game for Miami in the playoffs, four have averaged at least two three-pointers made per contest. Duncan Robinson was fourth in the NBA in made three-pointers in the regular season, shooting 44 percent on 8.3 attempts per game. Tyler Herro shot nearly 39 percent from deep on 5.3 tries per contest. Goran Dragic hit 36 percent of his attempts on a similar quantity as Herro. Jae Crowder shot 39 percent from deep on the season. They have shooters. The hope is that Herro and Robinson can do enough on defense to make their offensive contributions worth it.
Which brings us to Bam Adebayo, who will be the most crucial cog in Miami's machine if they want to pull off this upset. As a mobile big man with size, strength, and agility, Adebayo is one of the few defenders in the NBA well-suited to take on the challenge of guarding the Greek Freak. He's too big to go through and too quick to go around.
The Heat played well against the Bucks in their three regular-season matchups, and Adebayo should get the lion's share of the credit for their ability to do so. In two Heat victories, Adebayo limited Antetokounmpo as well as one could hope. In a five-point win in the second game of the season, Miami kept the reigning MVP to 29 points on 12-of-21 shooting. That's not locking him down by any means, but it speaks to how good Antetokounmpo is that we consider that a limiting performance. In the second Miami win in February, Adebayo really got the better of Milwaukee's star, holding him to 13 points on 6-of-18 shooting in 30 minutes of play.
Of course, there's only so much you can do against a player of that caliber. Milwaukee won one game against Miami during the regular season. They beat the Heat by 14 and Antetkounmpo had 33 points on 13-of-17 shooting with 12 rebounds. Adebayo won't hold Antetokounmpo to less than 20 points a game for the whole series, but neither will Antetokounmpo shoot 75 percent from the floor for the duration of the second round.
Miami has the shooters and defensive personnel required to beat Milwaukee. They have an extremely smart coach willing to make all sorts of adjustments in Erik Spoelstra and have a late-game crunch-time player to get tough buckets when they need him to in Butler. If the Heat can force Antetokounmpo to battle against Adebayo for most of the game (and limit Milwaukee's chances to take advantage of Herro and Robinson) they have as good a chance as any to come away with an unlikely series victory. But there are a lot of ifs there, and taking down the Bucks is no small task.