The Milwaukee Bucks are coming off of one of their most impressive wins of the regular season, defeating the Brooklyn Nets in a showdown between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant over the weekend.
With just two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Bucks find themselves sitting comfortably in a top-three seed in the East, with only three games separating them from the No. 1 spot in the conference.
Spawning off of their major win over the Nets, our NBA.com Staff plays a game of "Fact or Fiction" to discuss the championship aspirations of this Milwaukee team.
The Bucks need the No. 1 seed
Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): Fact. For a couple of reasons. One, getting the No. 1 seed would likely mean having to play only one of the Nets and 76ers en route to the Finals. Two, getting it would likely mean the only situation the Bucks would face the Heat is in the Eastern Conference Finals. As much of a disappointment as the Heat have been this season, they still match up pretty well with the Bucks. I'm guessing Milwaukee would prefer to not play Miami if given the choice.
Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): Fiction. The Bucks earned the No. 1 seed in the East for two seasons running and where did that get them in the past? Of course, matchups are important. And it's safe to assume that ideally, they would prefer not to have to go through Miami or Boston followed by Brooklyn and Philly to get to the NBA Finals. But I don't think the Bucks need the No. 1 seed in order to make the deep postseason run they desire. If they are the title contenders they believe themselves to be, they'll have to be capable of winning any tough series that is thrown their way.
Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): Fiction. I say this simply because I think they have no shot at getting to No. 1 now and I don't think that will break their chances to make a deep run. Would getting No. 1 make things much more favourable? Of course. But ultimately, if a team is to be considered good enough to win the title, it shouldn't be worried about or afraid of facing any competition on its way to the top. That means the Sixers, Nets and even the Heat, too.
No team has the personnel to defend Giannis Antetokounmpo
Rafferty: This is a tricky one. Antetokounmpo has a history of destroying them, but I feel like the 76ers at least have the personnel to make life difficult for him with Ben Simmons, Danny Green, Matisse Thybulle and Joel Embiid. (Whether or not a lineup built around the four of them could hang with the Bucks on the other end of the court is a different story). The Heat deserve mention because of how well they defended him in last year's playoffs, but Jae Crowder was a key piece of their success against Antetokounmpo. If they were to meet in the playoffs again, I'd be curious to see if the Heat could still give him trouble. Other than the 76ers and Heat, I'm not sure there's a team in the Eastern Conference that has a shot at containing him.
Irving: Fiction. To add to the two teams Scott said, the Celtics have done as good a job as anyone in the NBA in defending Antetokounmpo this season. According to Basketball-Reference, of every team that Antetokounmpo has played multiple games against, Boston ranks second in fewest points per game (21.3) and first in lowest field goal percentage (46.9%) against the reigning two-time MVP. This isn't to say that Antetokounmpo would dread a matchup against the Celtics (or 76ers, or Heat, for that matter), it's just to say that there are a few teams that have some schemes and players that match up well against him.
McGregor: Fiction. With Kyle and Scott pretty quickly ringing off a few teams that are capable of defending the two-time MVP, it's hard to say no one is equipped. The question is: To what extent? When I think of defending Antetokounmpo, I think about the size and versatility of Philadelphia's defenders, namely Embiid and Simmons. They can make life difficult for Antetokounmpo but he's so good that he'll still be able to put up numbers. I think Philly has the potential to slow him down and disrupt Milwaukee's offence but it's really not a foregone conclusion.
This is Milwaukee's most playoff-ready roster of the last three years
Rafferty: Fact. Jrue Holiday is a huge upgrade on both ends of the court and P.J. Tucker makes them switchier on defence, giving the Bucks the option of playing Giannis at centre more. Being better equipped to play different styles makes this Milwaukee's most playoff-ready roster to date.
Irving: Fact. In addition to Holiday and Tucker, I also like other new rotational pieces like Bobby Portis for some interior toughness and Bryn Forbes to add another sharpshooter off the bench. Plus, Donte DiVincenzo is coming into his own as the team's starting point guard and he's more playoff-ready than ever before with two postseason runs under his belt to this point. I think Antetokounmpo has much more help than he has in the past two seasons.
McGregor: Fact. A few weeks ago, I watched the Bucks take on the Suns in what felt like playoff basketball simply because Milwaukee was able to be a bit more flexible with its personnel. We've seen Holiday and Tucker perform at a high level in the postseason and their presence should do wonders for this team. I think a lot of it will come down to how Mike Budenholzer plays his cards, but he has quite the hand at his disposal.
The Bucks should be the favourites to come out of the East
Rafferty: Fiction. It's hard for me to go against the Nets, not only because of their star power, but because of how good Kyrie Irving, James Harden and Kevin Durant looked together in the few games they have shared the court. In saying that, the injury concerns are real for the Nets and they still have some stuff to figure out. I think they should be considered the favourites, but I don't think the gap between them and the Bucks is very large. The 76ers are also in the mix, of course, but I have some concerns about their offence.
Irving: Fiction. I'm with Scott here, it's still the Nets. Even if the 76ers finish with the No. 1 seed in the East, I still believe it's Brooklyn's conference title to lose. We just saw how much trouble the Nets gave Milwaukee - it took a 49-point outburst from Antetokounmpo to win by three points and the Brooklyn didn't even have Harden. But I do want to say, I think the Bucks could make a run without the target on their back that they've had the last two seasons.
McGregor: Fiction. It was cool to see Giannis go for 49 against Brooklyn but, like Kyle said, that's what the team needed to get past a Harden-less Nets team. It's hard not to think Brooklyn's talent doesn't make them the favourite.
I will say, though, the Bucks' issues with health and continuity came at the early part of the season and the Sixers and Nets have had much more recent issues. Not having the target on its back and not having to incorporate anyone could give this team a leg up on its main competition.
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