The Milwaukee Bucks have been the best team in the NBA for most of the season. They were on pace to win close to 70 games and currently have the second-best defensive rating in history. Milwaukee is undoubtedly heavy favorites to come out of the Eastern conference; however, their path to the finals won’t be without challenges.
Ranking the Four Eastern Conference Teams That Could be a Threat to the Milwaukee Bucks
4 – Miami Heat
The Miami Heat started the year 24-8 but have played .500 basketball since then. Having four months off could help them rediscover their early-season form. With Bam Adebayo on their side, the Heat possesses a player who could potentially slow down Giannis Antetokounmpo. Adebayo has the length, athleticism, and versatility to guard the Antetokounmpo both in the interior and on the perimeter. However, it would take a complete team effort in order to neutralize the reigning league MVP.
Miami also has a few of the best shooters in the league in rookies Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro. This works in favor of the team since the Milwaukee Bucks’ defensive philosophy is to guard the paint at the expense of giving up three-pointers; moreover, the Heat attempts the 10th most threes in the NBA and is rank first in percentage. Miami is also the only Eastern Conference team that the Bucks have yet to win against this season. Although Miami lacks the experience of other teams, they pose a legitimate threat to Milwaukee should they meet in the postseason.
3 – Philadelphia 76ers
On paper, the Philadelphia 76ers arguably match up better with the Bucks than any other team in the league. They have the size on both the perimeter and in the paint to make life difficult for Antetokounmpo. Philadelphia came into the season with finals aspirations but has struggled to find chemistry for the entire year. The addition of Al Horford was supposed to alleviate some of Joel Embiid’s workload, but the veteran big man has failed to develop chemistry with his new team and has now been relegated to the bench.
With that being said, the 76ers are capable of having a defensive player of the year level defender guarding Antetokounmpo at all times; Ben Simmons can cover him on the perimeter while Embiid takes over in the paint. Matisse Thybulle and Horford can be given the assignment as well when their two young stars need a breather. The problem with Philadelphia lies on the other end, as they are ranked 17th in offensive rating. Fortunately, the team might have solved some of their scoring issues with Simmons now playing power forward. The 76ers remain arguably the most fascinating team in the league; if they can solve some of their chemistry issues, they can be a threat to Milwaukee and make a run to the finals.
2 – Boston Celtics
After a tumultuous 2018-19 season, the Boston Celtics have bounced back and are legitimate threats to make the NBA finals. The team has four players who can average over 20 points, which is something that few organizations can boast.
Boston’s balance is admirable as well; they’re one of only three teams that are top five in both offensive and defensive ratings. Moreover, the Celtics have three elite wing defenders in Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart. All of them are capable of making life difficult for Antetokounmpo and any other offensive threat from the Milwaukee Bucks.
The problem that the Celtics will encounter should they play Milwaukee is the lack of an elite interior defender. Boston has managed to excel this season by using a rotation of different bigs, but none of them are capable of making life difficult for Antetokounmpo in the paint. They will certainly feel the loss of Horford, who managed to contain the Antetokounmpo for portions of their playoff series last season. Nonetheless, the Celtics’ future is bright no matter what happens this year, as their best players are still in their early 20s.
1 – Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors are arguably the most well-run organization in the NBA, as they currently own the third-best record league-wide. Having beaten the Bucks last year, the defending champions know what it takes to slow down Antetokounmpo and the rest of his team.
Toronto has elite defenders at every position and can switch from playing zone defense to man to man in an instant which creates havoc for opposing teams. More importantly, the Raptors have one of the deepest benches in the league; this means that they could rotate players to guard Antetokounmpo and attempt to wear him down.
Ultimately, this matchup could come down to a coaching battle. Last year, Nick Nurse’s improvisation and Mike Budenholzer’s refusal to adapt led to Toronto’s comeback. However, the Raptors lack the presence of a proven scorer and number one option.
Pascal Siakam has developed into a legitimate All-NBA player, but he doesn’t have the track record of a primary scorer. With that being said, Toronto’s coaching and experience will prove to be a legitimate threat to Milwaukee should they meet again this postseason; there’s no doubt that many fans will be hoping for a rematch between these elite teams.
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