The Bucks are going to sweep the Heat.
OK, I’ve gotten your attention.
I am only joking.
This series should be a joke in and of itself, with the best team in the entire NBA taking on the team that finished with the 18th-best record in the league. So it is a series of opposites, from the weather to the star appeal to the relative talents of the two teams. Yes, the Bucks did defeat the Heat this season – but that was back in the dinosaur days before Erik Spoelstra coaxed his team to a 27-game winning streak that left the rest of the Eastern Conference (with perhaps one or two exceptions) trembling in fear.
So let’s look at the five key factors in what should be a highly non-competitive series. (Of course, everybody said that about Chicago-Philadelphia in the first round last year, and everything changed in an eyeblink.)
1. Will this be a sweep?
This might be the Heat’s biggest challenge in this series, which starts Sunday in Miami. It might also be Milwaukee’s biggest challenge.
We all know the Heat is going to win. And we also know the Heat, which was 3-1 against Milwaukee during the regular season, doesn’t get style points for a sweep. But anything less would likely start a little chirping about how the Heat might not be the playoff juggernaut they have shown throughout the season.
In fact, one victory for the Bucks, who have lost 12 of their last 16 games and nine of their last 10 on the road, would probably make for a successful postseason.
The “Fear the Deer” campaign of a few years ago is gone. But the backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis is capable of causing problems. Center Larry Sanders, whom the Bucks are touting for Defensive Player of the Year and Most Improved Player, and forward Ersan Ilyasova might be able to do some damage.
But let’s be real. The Bucks don’t have the manpower to stop the Heat’s Big Three of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and they don’t have the bench to counter the Heat’s unit that includes swingman Mike Miller, forwards Udonis Haslem, Chris Andersen and Shane Battier, and guards Ray Allen and Norris Cole.
One win. That’s all Milwaukee needs to declare success.
2. Can Milwaukee center Larry Sanders outplay Miami center Chris Bosh?
This might be the key to Milwaukee getting a victory. That means a single victory, not a series victory.
If Sanders (9.8 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.38 blocks) can sneak up on Bosh (16.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg), it could be that X-factor that gets the Bucks over the hump.
Sanders is much-improved this year (thus, his candidacy for Most Improved Player), but Bosh is an All-Star who is a capable defender. It’s an interesting matchup.
Sanders’ defensive prowess will be pitted against Bosh’s career-best .535 field goal percentage and veteran savvy. Sanders already has a slight statistical edge on the boards. If he can use his defense to limit Bosh, you never know. Yes, a lot of other things have to happen – you’d think Ellis and Jennings would need to have huge games, too — but this could be a start.
The point guard matchup of Miami’s Mario Chalmers vs. Jennings could be interesting as well. But you almost have to figure Jennings (17.5 ppg, 6.8 apg) will have a big game at some point in the series. He’s playing for a new contract.
If Sanders’ contribution could decidedly surpass Bosh’s contribution, maybe the Bucks could steal a victory.
3. Will LeBron have a memorable dunk?
In the last Heat-Bucks meeting. James threw a pass to himself off the backboard and threw down a spectacular dunk that brought his teammates off the bench.
We all remember the vicious dunk he threw down over Boston’s Jason Terry earlier this season.
And then there was the memorable dunk over Chicago’s John Lucas III last season.
James, the obvious choice for MVP, might feel like making another memory at some point in this series.
I’m thinking there’s going to be another amazing dunk.
Think about it this way: The Bucks love to play an up-tempo game, and that feeds right into the formula for the Heat to put on an impressive fast break/transition offense game.
The thing that works to Milwaukee’s advantage in this respect is that the Bucks don’t commit a lot of turnovers. Their 13.6 turnovers per game were ninth-fewest in the NBA.
But they have also got to watch the Heat trio of Wade (1.86 steals per game, sixth in NBA), James (1.70 spg, 12th), and Chalmers (20th, 1.53 spg) overplaying the passing lanes and looking to start going the other way.
The smart money says James throws down a highlight-reel type dunk at some point in this series.
4. Will someone contend Erik Spoelstra was outcoached?
It’s fashionable to blame Spoelstra, a legitimate Coach of the Year candidate, on the rare occasions when Miami loses. That’s just the way it goes. The blame game has leveled off considerably since last year’s title and this season’s 27-game win streak. But it was there early this season when rebounds and road losses were a concern.
Spoelstra’s situation might be comparable to Boston’s K.C. Jones, another coach who didn’t seem to get sufficient credit for guiding an outstanding Big Three-led team (Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish).
No one regards Milwaukee’s Jim Boylan as a better coach than Spoelstra. But if Milwaukee wins a single game in this series, he will almost certainly be deemed the better coach on that night.
The truth is Spoelstra’s coaching probably won’t be a factor at all in this series. That’s not to say the coach won’t be important; he’s always important. But truthfully, Miami could practically run on auto-pilot until the second round, when matchups and getting ample rest for the starters become more important.
Spoelstra is definitely getting more respect as a coach, and he has definitely earned it. Somehow, Miami, which posted a 27-game win streak, the second-best in NBA history, doesn’t lose focus.
However, if the Heat loses a game to the Bucks, there are likely only two people that will get blamed – James or Spoelstra. And nowadays we know who loses that battle.
5) Does anyone dare pick “Heat in six”?
Most NBA “experts” are picking a Heat sweep. Some have been daring and picked the Heat in five.
But no one, absolutely no one, has had the guts to pick the Heat in six games. The bet is it will stay that way – even among the most devoted Bucks fans.
SHERIDAN: Heat in 4.
HUBBARD: Heat in 4.
HEISLER: Heat in 4.
BERNUCCA: Heat in 4.
HAMILTON: Heat in 4.
PERKINS: Heat in 4.
SCHAYES: Heat in 4.
ANDY KAMENETZKY: Heat in 4.
BRIAN KAMENETZKY: Heat in 4.
ZAGORIA: Heat in 5.
PARK: Heat in 4.