Later tonight, the Miami Heat will start their title defense as they welcome the Milwaukee Bucks into the American Airlines Arena. The Heat cruised through the regular season on their way to a 66-16 record and the number one overall seed. Meanwhile, the Bucks did enough to grab the eighth seed, sending them to the playoffs for the first time since the 2009-2010 season.
Biggest Strength: LeBron James. There’s not much to say here that hasn’t already been said. At this point, James is nearly unstoppable. The consensus MVP just finished arguably the most impressive regular season in history. He has become devastatingly efficient on the offensive end, shooting 56% from the field and 40% from three. He also leads the Heat in both rebounding and assists. And the scary thing for the Bucks is that as LeBron showed last year in Game 6 of the ECF, he can turn things up a level in the playoffs.
Player To Watch: Once again, LeBron James. After finally winning that elusive championship last year, he came back with a truly dominant regular season. LeBron has reached the point where every time he plays it is must watch TV just to see what he’ll do next. No matter how quickly this series is over (and it’ll probably be over pretty quick) LeBron will give us a number of memorable plays. Whether they’re high-flying alley oops, crisp passes, or a big chase down block, you’ll just have to tune in and see. The chance to watch the greatest player of this generation should never be passed up.
Biggest Strength: Rebounding. If there is any area the Bucks might have an advantage on the Heat, it would be on the glass. The Bucks aren’t winning this series, (sorry Bucks fans) but if they want any chance at stealing a game or two, they absolutely need to rebound well. Their advantage on the glass is nowhere near as big as it might look at first glance. The Bucks may have grabbed an average of 5 rebounds a game more than the Heat, but there is more to look at than just how many rebounds a team got. The two teams had nearly identical rebound percentages. (The percent of how many available rebounds your team corralled.) This is the only aspect of the game that the Bucks have a chance to win, and its vital they do so. LARRY SANDERS! will rebound, but he needs help, especially from Ersan Ilyasova and the guards.
Player To Watch: Monta Ellis. Monta Ellis thinks he has it all, and he’ll need to if the Bucks want to steal a few games. Ellis might be an infuriating player, especially for the analytics crowd because of his shot selection, but he’s certainly fun to watch. On any night, Ellis is capable of going for 40. (Even if it takes him 25 or 30 shots to get there.) In the last few months, his assist numbers have also been very good. It should be fun to watch Ellis in his first playoff series since 2006-2007 with Golden State.
Prediction: Heat in 5. This isn’t a question of who will win, rather how fast the Heat will be able to dispatch the Bucks. (Sorry Brandon Jennings.) While I certainly wouldn’t be surprised by a Heat sweep, I think the Bucks will be able to sneak out one game at home. The Bucks are just overmatched here, and the Heat will shortly be on their way to continue their title defense.