Cup of Joe Presented by Café Bustelo: Gearing Up For Another Battle With The Bucks
On April 16, the HEAT were in the midst of a rough patch.
Having just lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves for their third-straight defeat, the HEAT found themselves at 28-28, and the play-in round seemed like a very real possibility.
But things were about to change in a hurry.
Two days later, Bam Adebayo hit a game-winning jumper at the buzzer against the Nets in a nationally televised game on ESPN, and the HEAT were off.
By way of a top-three offense, Miami went on to win 12 of its last 16 games, clinched a playoff berth with three contests remaining and ultimately finished as the sixth seed at 40-32. And now, there’s a familiar foe on the other side in Round 1 of the playoffs, which begin on Saturday at 2 PM.
That, of course, would be the Milwaukee Bucks.
“I think we all grew…from the regular season and all the different challenges and things that were much different than other years…I enjoyed just the absolute unpredictability and newness of this kind of season, and I think a lot of people and teams around the league probably were experiencing something similar,” Erik Spoelstra said. “I’m grateful that I was able to go through that experience with this locker room with this season. And now that’s all behind us, and this is the best time of year: the playoffs and the best competition.”
And the competition will be fierce. Yes, the HEAT dispatched the Bucks in five games in the 2020 Eastern Conference Semifinals, but don’t get it twisted. This Milwaukee team isn’t the same personnel-wise, as it now has Jrue Holiday, Bobby Portis, P.J. Tucker, Bryn Forbes and Jeff Teague. What’s more, the Bucks took the season-series with Miami 2-1, though it’s important to note that Jimmy Butler missed all three games.
“It’s going to be a battle. That’s pretty much how I see it,” Adebayo said. “They’re definitely thinking about last year, and they want their get back. It’s not a surprise, it’s not like a secret, so the best thing for us is to bring our intensity and show up.”
“They’re a really good team, obviously,” Tyler Herro added. “They’re much different from last year. They added a bunch of guys with Jrue [Holiday] and Bobby Portis and some guys off the bench, so it’s going to be a great series. I feel like it’s two great teams in the Eastern Conference going at it.”
Indeed. Let’s get into what we can see come Saturday, shall we?
Scouting The Bucks
When talking about the Bucks, you have to start with Giannis Antetokounmpo.
I mean, the Greek Freak is a one-man wrecking crew on the break. In fact, he shot 80.7 percent (435-of-539) from the restricted area during the regular season, which led the league (minimum of 50 such attempts).
And while Antetokounmpo had some solid sequences against Miami this year, Adebayo didn’t make anything come easy.
Speaking of not coming easy, Antetokounmpo’s percentages dropped a bit from mid-range and essentially stayed the same from downtown (still basically 30 percent), so the HEAT might form a wall in the paint to try and neutralize his effectiveness at the rim. That’s where Milwaukee’s improved shooting comes into play, as the squad had eight rotation players shoot 37 percent or better from downtown this year.
Sure, that’ll be tough to mitigate, but you know Butler, Trevor Ariza and Adebayo among others should be up to the task versus Khris Middleton, Holiday and company.
On the flip side of the ball, the Bucks’ strategy is well-documented. Though they’ve mixed in more switching, they primarily play drop coverage to protect the paint, which in turn leaves them susceptible from beyond the arc. We saw that up close and personal on May 15 when the HEAT tied a franchise record with 22 treys in a 122-108 loss at Fiserv Forum.
In short, Miami has shooters, and those guys will be vital in this series.
Looking At Potential X-Factors
While we’re on the topic of important guys in this series, let’s take a look at one starter and one bench player on each team who could be an X-factor.
For Milwaukee, you have guard Donte DiVincenzo and forward Portis.
DiVincenzo, who averaged career-highs across the board this season, can play both on and off the ball and has a good rapport with Antetokounmpo. Outside of hitting catch-and-shoot treys, DiVincenzo also defends with purpose. All told, Milwaukee outscored the opposition by 8.1 points per 100 possessions with the former Villanova standout on the floor.
Portis, meanwhile, is a wily vet who spaces the floor, finishes plays in the paint and brings energy and intensity. Because of his versatility, he works well with anyone and provides a major boost off the bench. Portis isn’t a high-volume shooter, but he still led the Bucks in three-point shooting percentage (47.1 percent on 157 attempts).
“I think Portis gives them something different: a scorer, some physicality. He can put the ball in the basket,” Spoelstra said. “DiVincenzo, as a young player, I think, has just gotten a lot better. You can tell that they all have confidence in him.”
As for the HEAT’s x-factors, look no further than Kendrick Nunn and Herro, and that’s not just because of their hot streaks to end the regular season. Again, with the Bucks packing the paint more often than not, that should leave the mid-range area and perimeter pretty open.
Nunn is no stranger to scoring from those spots.
“I’m a natural scorer, and I can play at all three levels,” Nunn said. “And [I’m] just constantly building on those three levels of my game offensively…and becoming better. I’ll just get better and better with the more experience and years I have.”
In addition to shooting 47.1 percent (40-of-85) on mid-range jumpers, the 25-year-old also converted catch-and-shoot threes at a 42.1 percent clip (98-of-233).
Although Herro wasn’t quite as efficient due to injuries and such, he played some of his best basketball down the stretch.
Over the course of Miami’s last six games of the regular season, Herro averaged 16.7 points on 54.2 percent shooting, including 48.6 percent from deep.
“This year, he’s had to deal with a bunch of different things, including minor nagging injuries, storylines that are different, a role that’s a little bit different. I think he just always approaches it the right way. He comes in, trying to get better, trying to make improvements, be better for the team and to impact winning,” Coach Spo said. “And it hasn’t been just about whether he’s scoring or not…we’re developing him as a complete player to learn how to win…and he’s come a long way, and I think it’s been a large part because of his mindset and approach to everything.”
Odds & Ends:
-You know who else has the right mindset and approach to everything?
Jimmy G. Buckets.
And he got a lot of those buckets this season due to pick-sixes. So much so that he led the league with 2.1 steals per game to become the first player in franchise history to finish a season as the leader in that category.
“There’s a lot of incredibly unique things about [Jimmy Butler] as a defender. And a lot of them may be contradictory because, I think, the fans maybe see the leading the league in steals and you see the picks and some of the trickery where he’s in a passing lane that you don’t even see it before it’s happening,” Spoelstra said. “And he has great anticipation and closing speed, but he’s also an old school, just line him up against the other team’s best player, mano-a-mano, and take that challenge.”
We’ll see how Butler rises to the challenge yet again in the postseason.
Until next time.