2021 NBA Playoffs East Semis preview: (3) Bucks vs. (2) Nets

The Milwaukee Bucks had an easy time in the first round, sweeping the Heat after a contentious game one.

Following Khris Middleton’s winning basket in overtime of game one, the Bucks proceeded to outscore the Heat by 80 points in their next three games.

Off the bench, Bryn Forbes averaged 15 points per game and hit the three-ball at a team-high 48.5%. Giannis Antetokounmpo dominated the glass against Miami, averaging a playoff-high 15 rebounds per game in round one.

After a strong team showing, and commanding series victory, Milwaukee now has to turn their intentions to the most dangerous team in this year’s playoffs, the Brooklyn Nets.

The Nets have been “The Team” this season after pairing Kevin Durant with Kyrie Irving and James Harden. However, with injuries down the stretch of the season and a surging Philadelphia 76ers team, the Nets fell to the second seed in the Eastern Conference.

In round one, the Nets handled the Boston Celtics in five games, outscoring their opponent by 56 in the series. Harden’s passing skills were on full display as he averaged 10.6 assists per game, the second most of any player in this year’s playoffs. Durant also showed up big time for Brooklyn, putting up 32.6 points per game.

But as the second seed in the East, Brooklyn has a tough matchup ahead.

Milwaukee won the season series against Brooklyn, taking two wins in their three meetings. The Bucks have not yet met a Nets team with a fully-loaded lineup to this point. In their first meeting of the season without Irving and before signing Blake Griffin, the Nets bested the Bucks at home by a slim margin 125-123. In early May, the Nets traveled to Milwaukee for back-to-back games against the Bucks without Harden. The Nets dropped both games, but each was a single-digit deficit. 

Now in the playoffs, each team’s core players are healthy and playing at their max potential. Two wins separated these teams in the regular season, leaving the Nets and Bucks as the second and third seed.

The Bucks were number one in the NBA during the regular season in points per game with 120.1, while the Nets were second with 118.6 points per game.

The teams were similar on the defensive side as the Nets finished 21st in points allowed per game with 114.1 and the Bucks were 22nd with 114.2. On paper, this series has the potential to be an epic seven-game clash between two of the NBA’s top teams.

Milwuakee has struggled to break through in the playoffs as they received the number one seed the last two seasons. They ended up losing in the second round a year ago and the conference finals back in 2019. Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer is on the hot seat and needs to overcome, or at least, put up a fight against the Nets to ensure his job for next season.

The Nets are still young as a “superteam” with this being the first year of Irving, Durant and Harden. But since day one, this team has kept the wheels rolling as they’ve been one of the toughest teams in the NBA when at least two of their stars are healthy. The Nets have the ability to just turn on the switch and go for huge runs, seemingly whenever they please. Beating the Nets is going to take superb defensive play and there may not be a team in the league that can keep up consistently. Between Irving (26.9 PPG) Durant (26.9 PPG) and James Harden (24.6 PPG) you have to be able to lock up all three of their guys or one of them will find the bucket.

The Bucks are one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA and will need to control the glass against Brooklyn, who gave up the second-most, second-chance points this season. In their final meeting, Brooklyn bested Milwaukee in shooting percentage and three-point percentage, but merely lost the rebound battle 55-39, leading to a Milwaukee victory.

This is not an ideal matchup for either team in the second round, but each team knows they have to bring their “A” game if they are going to best the other to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Brooklyn now has their roster back and in playoff form, can Milwaukee stand in the way of their destined title run? The series tips-off Saturday, June 5th at 4:30 p.m. PDT on TNT.  The winner of the series will go on to play the winner of the Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks series in the conference finals.

Prediction: Nets in 7

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