Three biggest questions ahead of the Heat-Bucks first-round series
Miami and Milwaukee tip-off Sunday at 5:30 p.m. ET.
The No. 8 seed Miami Heat and the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks tip-off Sunday in the first round of the 2022-23 NBA playoffs inside Fiserv Forum. What are some of my biggest questions heading into the series? Let’s talk about it!
1. Can Miami’s shooting reach its level … again? Who contributes?
The Miami Heat were one of the least efficient shooting teams in the league pre-All-Star break. But as I discussed in the preview against Chicago, the Heat was a top-10 3-point shooting team after the All-Star break, despite a considerable defensive dropoff.
Though in Miami's two play-in games, it regressed back to its early season struggles, shooting a combined 21-of-64 (32.8 percent) from 3-point range.
The Heat saw unlikely contributions from Kyle Lowry, who had arguably his best game since joining Miami, and Max Strus, who knocked down seven 3-pointers en-route to 31 points in the playoff-clinching victory.
Milwaukee is a better 3-point shooting team than both Atlanta and Chicago. The Bucks, despite being the 15th-most efficient offense, was a top-10 3-point shooting team from long range, including the 4th-most efficient since Khris Middleton *fully* returned from injury on Jan. 23.
The Bucks have seven rotation players who have made at least 37 percent of their triples on at least three attempts. The Heat have, well, one: Tyler Herro (37.8 percent; 8.0 attempts).
Miami must receive invaluable contributions from multiple different floor spacers — plus better offensive outputs from Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro — if it wants to have any chance at giving the Bucks a series.
And with the talent and two-way acumen on the other side, that might not be enough.
2. How — and, more importantly, who — will defend Giannis Antetokounmpo?
The Miami Heat are in a pickle, especially defensively.
Lately, the Heat have run out a starting five of Vincent-Herro-Strus-Butler-Adebayo. Ahead of Friday’s game, while Spoelstra said Miami’s rotation would look different, it operated with the same starting five — altering the substitute pattern.
I’m not sure that maintains itself (by the end of) this series, though I assume Butler draws the Giannis Antetokounmpo assignment if he does. Here’s my (novice) matchup projection, when Miami’s on defense:
Vincent ——> Holiday
Herro ——> Allen
Strus ——> Middleton
Butler ——> Antetokounmpo
Adebayo ——> Lopez
Should Caleb Martin or Haywood Highsmith start (likely instead of Strus), they would take the Middleton assignment under this umbrella. Miami could go multiple different routes with how to defend him, too. And it might have to.
Even in the first round, this is a kitchen sink series for the Heat — they need to throw every scheme (blitzes, switches, traps, hedges, presses, zones) at Antetokounmpo and Co., in hopes to slow them down.
In all likelihood, Antetokounmpo, Holiday and Middleton will try to pick on its smaller defenders (Vincent, Herro, etc.) in an array of (pick and roll) actions. The results might still be suboptimal; in the end, Milwaukee has near-elite floor spacers surrounding the King Boss that is Antetokounmpo. Plus, the Heat will be risking foul trouble to their two best defenders if Butler/Adebayo are the two primary players checking Giannis.
Though Spoelstra can’t afford to pull any punches with what he throws at Antetokounmpo from the very first tip-off. There’s no time to wait or else it might already be too late.
3. Can Bam Adebayo rewrite the script after what happened two seasons ago?
No matter what’s taken course over the last two play-in games, Adebayo is a different — more improved — version than he was the last time Milwaukee and Miami met in the playoffs.
Two seasons ago, Adebayo looked like a complete shell of himself. Milwaukee cut the head off the snake with the Robinson-Adebayo DHO, leaving him on an island with Brook Lopez more often than not at the elbows or in the mid-to-high post.
At the time, he was reluctant to take advantage of the space Lopez provided him (by design); Adebayo was put in a box mentally.
Now, when he’s able to catch the ball with pockets of space in the middle of the lane, Adebayo takes advantage without thinking. Though teams have recently adjusted, sending second and an occasional third defender into his path whenever Adebayo is within 15 feet to allocate extra help.
Doing so, conversely, opens up Miami’s shooters — who have been inconsistent all season, as I previously mentioned. Adebayo, offensively, hasn’t risen up to the expectations regardless, but he’s more than made up for it with his elite acumen defensively (i.e. Chicago).
Though this series will tell a lot about Adebayo’s growth offensively over the last two years; in some ways, Milwaukee sending extra help his way might already be an indication. But Miami needs Adebayo to step up more offensively now more than in any other series.
But the question is: Can he, and will he? I guess we’ll see over the next several days.
Let's hope that our heat will be making a bunch of there shots and go on to have a competitive series with these bucks.