Milwaukee and Miami begin their playoff series; Rockets look to close out the Thunder
Milwaukee Bucks (-5.5) vs. Miami Heat (+5.5) Game One at 6:30 PM EST
The Heat and Bucks will meet for the first game of their Eastern Conference Semi-Final matchup. Despite losing the first game of their series against the Magic, the Bucks were able to put together a four-game win-streak to bounce Orlando out of the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Heat come into this series with a chip on their shoulder after sweeping the Indiana Pacers in four games. I think that this series will be one of the best of the 2020 playoffs.
These squads have faced off three times so far this season. Two of the matchups came before the NBA season was paused in mid-March. The Heat were able to sweep the regular-season series. Miami and Milwaukee did meet once more in the NBA Bubble. The Bucks wound up winning that game 130-116, clinching the top seed in the East. Now, these two franchises will meet in a best-of-seven series with a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals on the line.
The biggest storyline coming into this series is the head-to-head battles that will likely take place between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler. It is worth noting that the Miami Heat were able to win the season series against the Bucks even though Jimmy Butler only played in one game against Milwaukee. In that game, which the Heat won 105-89, Giannis was held to just 13 points on a night where he shot 33% from the field. Also, the Greek Freak finished the game with a +/- of -16, which is unacceptable for a former MVP. On the other side, Jimmy Butler played one of his best games of the season when he faced off against Giannis on March 2nd. Butler finished with 18 points, seven assists, six rebounds, and a +/- of +14. You can guarantee that Jimmy Butler is going to make life difficult for Giannis.
When I look at this series, I like the Bucks to win, but I still believe Miami is going to push this to six or seven games. Jimmy Butler can contain Giannis, that fact has already been proven. Furthermore, I think Bam Adebayo will give the Bucks fits down-low. Plus, Goran Dragic has been excellent in the postseason, averaging 22.8 points, five assists, and four rebounds per game. I think Miami is going to come out with a head full of steam and get off to a hot start, especially because they are well-rested. They’ll ride that momentum to an eventual victory. I’m worried Milwaukee can get a little complacent at times. We saw that in the last series when they lost their opening game against the Magic. Like I said, I think the Bucks win the series, but I like the Heat to take game one.
Heat 113 – Bucks 108
Houston Rockets (-5.0) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (+5.0) Game Six at 9:00 PM EST
The Oklahoma City Thunder have their backs up against the wall. After losing the first two games of the series, OKC literally stormed back (HA!) in games three and four to tie the series at two games apiece. The most recent matchup in this series was a blowout though. Houston beat down the Thunder 114-80 to take a 3-2 lead. Now, the Thunder are on the brink of elimination as they look to bounce back and push this series to seven games.
It should come as no surprise that James Harden has been incredible in the playoffs. In the Conference Quarterfinals, he has averaged 31.8 points, eight assists, and 6.6 rebounds per game against the Thunder. These numbers become even more impressive once you realize that Russell Westbrook has only played in one game so far this series. At this time, ESPN has listed Westbrook out for this game, so James Harden will have to put up at least 30 points if the Rockets hope to close out the Thunder.
Guard play has been the catalyst for OKC’s success in the playoffs this season. In fact, the trio of OKC Guards (Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) currently rank first, second, and third on the team in points per game. With Russell Westbrook listed as out for Game Six, I think this three-headed monster will be too much for James harden to handle by himself. That’s why I am feeling confident in OKC today.
Furthermore, I don’t believe Chris Paul is going to let OKC get bounced out tonight. The 10-time NBA All-Star has a clear chip on his shoulder after being traded out of Houston to Oklahoma last year. With no Russell Westbrook on the floor to counter Chris Paul, I would not be surprised to see him go for 25+ points and 10+ assists in this game.
This is a classic NBA playoff story. A player gets traded away from one team and then takes his new team to the playoffs where they face off against his old team. Right now, Chris Paul is the main character of this story. I believe he will personally drag the Thunder to a game seven, even if he has to do it by himself. I would pick the Rockets if Westbrook plays, but with him being ruled out due to injury, I am picking the Thunder to win tonight and force a game seven.