We’re forever going to remember the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals for the epic duel between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant, whose shoe was just a few centimeters too long to send the Brooklyn Nets to the next round.
Tomorrow, we get the second meeting between the two since that series. The Milwaukee Bucks already beat the Nets this season but both teams will look drastically different when they hit the Barclays Center floor at 8:30 AM tomorrow live on TV5.
For one, both teams are healthy, relative to the current state of the Omicron-stricken NBA. The Bucks won’t have Greyson Allen and Pat Connaughton as well as head coach Mike Budenhozer, all of whom are in COVID protocols.
The Nets, on the other hand, have a complete lineup sans the still-recovering Joe Harris. They even got Kyrie Irving back, who was still unstoppable, judging by his 22-point performance in his first game of the season against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday. As much as you can’t stop him, you also cannot keep Kyrie Irving from his beliefs. He’s still unvaccinated, thus ineligible to play in Brooklyn tomorrow due to New York State regulations.
Between Durant and James Harden, who has been creeping back to his old form lately, the Nets should still have enough to challenge Milwaukee. Compared to other elite teams, Brooklyn’s offensive and defensive numbers are subpar (11th in offensive rating and ninth in defensive rating). Their only saving grace this season has been having Durant and Harden relatively healthy so far aside from the two separate weeks they were out due to health and safety protocols.
The Nets’ 24-12 record has a lot to do with Durant mustering another MVP-caliber season, averaging 30.0 points on 51.8 percent shooting with 7.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists. As long as Durant is in the lineup, the Nets have had enough to go toe-to-toe with other title contenders.
Milwaukee, for its part, recovered from an early slump, but has again looked shaky in its last two games. The Bucks looked great against the lowly Detroit Pistons, then got out-hustled by the Toronto Raptors at home. Antetokounmpo missed the Toronto game due to a non-COVID illness, but the defending champs should still have been expected to eke one out against the up-and-down Raptors.
With all that said, Milwaukee still looks solid at 25-15, just one game behind Brooklyn for second in the East. They’re replicating last season’s numbers with a couple of tweaks to their system. They’re still in good shape on both ends statistically (sixth in offensive rating and eighth in defensive rating). They’ve had to accommodate a few pieces to their rotation with Bobby Portis filling in at center for the injured Brook Lopez and Allen or Connaughton taking the starting guard spot with Donte DiVincenzo still working his way back from a wrist injury.
Still, this Milwaukee team comes at you in three waves: with Giannis, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday. When their trio is healthy, the Bucks have only lost five games this season, showing how important they are on both ends of the floor. This trio was enough to overwhelm the Nets in the playoffs. They should still be game to counter Brooklyn’s Durant-Harden duo.
Realistically, tomorrow’s game will most likely be a drop in the ocean of an 82-game season. The season series could end up being important down the line for tiebreakers for playoff seeding, but neither team will have all their cards on the table for tomorrow.
That doesn’t mean it won’t be an intense game. Giannis and KD are basketball yin and yang, and that’s most apparent when they share the court. Durant approaches the game with grace while Antetokounmpo brutalizes entire basketball possessions. Just between KD fadeaways and Giannis poster dunks, tomorrow’s game is definitely worth a peek.
If you still don’t get your basketball fix from that game, the Atlanta Hawks visiting the Los Angeles Lakers will come on live at 11 AM on NBA TV Philippines.
LeBron James has been molten hot lately as the Lakers have shown signs of turning their season around. The Hawks have also been inconsistent, especially defensively, but Trae Young always provides enough reason to stick around for Atlanta games.
This also means Young visiting Los Angeles. We've seen his Broadway show. Maybe we can get a Hollywood adaptation of the Trae Young villain story.