The Milwaukee Bucks have again clinched the best record in the Eastern Conference, setting up a first-round date with the eighth-seeded Orlando Magic.
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- Game 1 - Tuesday, August 18 @ 1:30 p.m.
- Game 2 - Thursday, August 20 @ 6:00 p.m.
- Game 3 - Saturday, August 22 @ 1:00 p.m.
- Game 4 - Monday, August 24 @ 1:30 p.m.
- Game 5 (if necessary) - TBD
- Game 6 (if necessary) - TBD
- Game 7 (if necessary) - TBD
Result: Bucks won 4-0
Best game: Dec. 9, 2019 - Bucks 110, Magic 101
Best performance: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Dec. 9, 2019) - 32 points (12-22 FG, 2-5 3PT, 6-12 FT), 15 rebounds, 8 assists, 1 block, 1 steal
The two teams first met five games into the season, as the Bucks cruised to a 123-91 road win over the Magic after trailing early.
Milwaukee got it done defensively, holding Orlando to 34-for-91 (37.4%) shooting from the field and winning the rebounding battle, 58-40.
Antetokounpmo dominated, finishing with 29 points, 14 rebounds and six assists in 30 minutes, although he committed seven turnovers in the game. It was his brother, Thanasis, that had the highlight of the game, scoring his only bucket in emphatic fashion.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo's first points as a Buck...- Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) November 2, 2019
A POSTER!! pic.twitter.com/WzyfMd4RXv
The second meeting was much closer, as the Magic trailed by six points with under a minute remaining before falling 110-101.
Again, Antetokounpmo led the way for Milwaukee with 32 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists while Khris Middleton added 20 points, nine boards and three assists in 29 minutes of action.
Orlando was led by 26 points from Evan Fournier while reserve Terrence Ross finished with 23 points (on 8-for-14 shooting) off the bench. As a team, however, the Magic were limited to 35-for-92 (38.0%) shooting from the field.
Less than three weeks later, the Magic returned to Fiserv Forum to take on a Giannis-less Bucks team.
Thanks to a balanced attack, Milwaukee earned a 111-100 win over Orlando, with 21 points from Middleton leading the way. Ersan Ilyasova, George Hill and Robin Lopez each scored 17 points on a combined 20-for-29 (69.0%) shooting.
The Magic, who were led by 23 points from Fournier, shot just 35-for-87 (40.2%) as a team and were outrebounded 58-34 by the Bucks, continuing a trend.
In the fourth and final meeting between the two teams, it was Brook Lopez that led the way for Milwaukee, with 23 points (on 9-for-13 shooting from the field, 5-for-5 from deep) and six rebounds. While Antetokounmpo was just 6-for-17 from the field, he finished with 18 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.
Nikola Vucevic led Orlando with 21 points (on 10-for-20 shooting), 14 rebounds and six assists, but as a team, the Magic shot 37-for-98 (37.8%) from the field and were outrebounded 62-46.
Orlando last defeated Milwaukee on Feb. 9, 2019.
Key Storyline: Giannis Antetokounmpo, man on a mission
By many accounts, the reigning MVP is the favourite to be named both MVP and Defensive Player of the Year when awards are announced during the 2020 NBA Playoffs, which would make him the third player in NBA history to win both honours in the same season.
Antetokounmpo's rapid ascension into superstardom has quickly filled his trophy case but one major thing is missing: The Larry O'Brien trophy.
The 2019 postseason ended with heartbreak for Giannis and the Bucks, as they were just a few plays away from taking a commanding 3-0 lead over the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals. Instead, Toronto won four games in a row to eliminate Milwaukee en route to its first NBA title.
We've seen it time and time again, every young superstar has their bumps in the road in the postseason before getting over the hump to become a champion. After first-round losses in 2017 and 2018, followed by a conference finals loss in 2019, Giannis has seen and done more in the postseason than most 25-year-old franchise players.
With Milwaukee again posting the league's best record and Antetokounmpo potentially earning two prestigious honours, the pressure is on - it's pretty much title or bust, and it all begins in the first round.
In three games vs. Orlando this season, Giannis posted averages of 26.3 points, 15.7 rebounds and 7.7 assists but also committed 4.7 turnovers per contest. While he appears to be unstoppable more often than not, Magic forward Jonathan Isaac had the length and athleticism to make things difficult for the MVP at times, while forward Aaron Gordon guarded Giannis more than any other player in the league this season, per NBA.com Stats.
With Isaac out due to a torn ACL and Gordon hobbled by a hamstring injury, will the Magic have enough manpower to slow down this version of Giannis?
It takes four series wins to win an NBA title, so for Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, their first-round series against the Magic is like the first quarter. I'm fully expecting this team to try to set the tone early, similar to how they did last year in a dominant sweep of the Detroit Pistons.
Giannis will have it on his mind early and often to make a statement throughout the postseason, and it begins with the Magic.
Three Players to Watch
Bledsoe's play tapered off by the end of the 2019 postseason, with him averaging just 10.2 points on .294/.172/.762 shooting splits in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Milwaukee's point guard has taken ownership of his shortcomings last year and is focused on making them a distant memory. Working against Bledsoe's favour is that he was a late arrival to the NBA campus at Walt Disney World, and he's been working to get back into rhythm and regain his conditioning.
After missing the Bucks' first two seeding games, Bledsoe saw his workload gradually increase over the next four, culminating with him playing late minutes alongside reserves in a narrow loss to the Raptors.
Through four seeding games, Bledsoe posted averages of 10.8 points (on 41.2% shooting), 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists in 25.6 minutes of action per game.
He has to ramp up the production in order for Milwaukee to realize its title aspirations.
The Bucks have built the league's top-rated defence by packing things inside and forcing teams to beat them from the perimeter. When teams have gotten hot from outside, they've made things difficult for Milwaukee.
This is where Fournier comes in.
The Magic rank 22nd in the league in 3-pointers per game with 11.0 and nearly half of them come from Fournier and reserve guard Terrence Ross. In four games against the Bucks this year, Fournier has averaged 20.5 points and 3.3 assists while connecting on 50.0% of his 32 total 3-point attempts.
Fournier will have plenty of opportunities to get hot from deep, which would be a key part of the formula for Orlando to steal a game, or two.
Sometimes, it seems like the other half of Milwaukee's All-Star duo doesn't get enough love.
After falling decimal points shy of posting a 50/40/90 season while averaging 21.0 points per game, the 29-year-old is primed for the postseason. Middleton appeared in all four games against the Magic this season, averaging 19.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists while shooting 50.8% from the field, 37.0% from deep and sinking all eight of his free throw attempts.
While the aforementioned Bledsoe continues to work himself back into game rhythm, Middleton's playmaking will be a key for the Bucks; not just in the first round, but throughout the entirety of the postseason.
If Middleton can tap into another level, the Bucks title chances become that much more legitimate.
Picks and Predictions
Gilbert McGregor: Bucks in four
Carlan Gay: Bucks in four
Alex Novick: Bucks in four
Scott Rafferty: Bucks in four
Benyam Kidane: Bucks in five
Yash Matange: Bucks in four
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