The Eastern Conference Playoffs took a huge turn with the knee injury Joel Embiid suffered in Game 4 of the Philadelphia 76ers first round series against the Washington Wizards. Though the Sixers advanced after defeating the Wizards in Game 5, there’s still a sense that the Sixers were dealt a costly blow to their championship aspirations.
That brings us to this series between the Nets and the Bucks. For all intents and purposes, this is a dream matchup that is worthy to be on the Eastern Conference Finals stage. And what makes this series so irresistible is the fact that whichever team comes out of this will be the odds on favorite to book a seat in the NBA Finals.
The Sixers, as mentioned, are dealing with their own set of injuries, while the Hawks might be too young and we’ve never seen such a young squad make it to the ECF in only their first appearance.
The Bucks and the Nets, on the other hand, are filled with veterans who know what it takes to win at a high level, particularly with so much riding on this series.
Keep an eye on…
We all need to keep an eye on whether or not Giannis Antetokounmpo can be the best player in this series.
It’s going to be tough when their opponents have James Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving in their lineup. But for the Bucks to prevail, Giannis is going to have to be dominant on both ends of the floor. There’s no one on the Nets who can contain him, not that Brooklyn is known for their defense anyway.
Giannis was content to do his part in helping Milwaukee sweep Miami, deferring to Khris Middleton in the clutch, and to Jrue Holiday for ball handling duties. But against the Nets, he’s going to have to be the Greek Freak that we all know and love.
It can’t be understated just how impactful the signing of Jrue Holiday in the offseason was for the Bucks. In the Bucks’ dismantling of the Heat, Holiday averaged 15.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 9.8 assists, and 2.3 steals. He was arguably the Bucks’ best player in the series. He did such an excellent job running the show and allowing Giannis to focus on breaking down the Heat’s defense.
Well, Holiday’s job is about to get even more difficult. Not only will he have to provide the same impact, he’ll also have his hands full, most likely guarding either Iriving or Harden this entire series. Holiday is definitely up for the challenge, but the task remains daunting.
If Harden and Irving are able to utilize the freedom and space created by Brooklyn’s schemes, the Nets are absolutely devastating and impossible to stop. But Holiday has the skill set and guile to ensure that it’s going to be a dogfight in the backcourt.
This figures to be the most intriguing series of the second round. The Nets and Bucks are both healthy, and more importantly, they are hungry for a championship (first in franchise history for the Nets, first since 1971 for the Bucks). This is a battle between two teams that retooled in the offseason. All the moves seem to be paying off as both are strong title contenders right now.
The star power on both teams will definitely be the story of the series. Two-time MVP Giannis and All-Stars Middleton and Holiday versus the supernova Nets trio of Durant, Harden, and Irving.
For the Bucks to get the win against the Nets, they badly need to revert to their identity, which is found on the defensive end. The acquisition of Holiday and PJ Tucker at the trade deadline was meant for a matchup like this – switchable and rugged defenders who can guard scorers of all kinds.
Yes, the Bucks can score. A rejuvenated Brook Lopez who is now getting buckets in the paint aside from the perimeter can also wreak havoc on the opposing frontcourt. But Brooklyn’s offense is so otherworldly that the Bucks will need to expend more energy on trying to slow them down than to keep up.
For the Nets, the answer is simple: outscore, outrun, and overwhelm the Bucks with their scoring. Let Kyrie and James cook, while KD and Giannis cancel each other out with their elite game. This matchup figures to be dictated by which backcourt can deliver at a higher level.
Will Irving and Harden dominate or can Holiday set the tempo and lock down the Nets’ All-Stars?
So many questions, so much incredible basketball upcoming. Toss that ball up and let’s go.