Are the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks Destined for a Finals Rematch?

Last July, the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns treated basketball fans to a memorable NBA Finals matchup. After the Suns won the first two games, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks took the next four to win their first title in 50 years.

To no surprise, both Phoenix and Milwaukee are in the thick of the playoff race. The defending champs are underperforming to a degree, sitting at 39-25 in the East’s three-seed. However, Devin Booker and Chris Paul have led the Suns to a 51-12 record, 8.5 games better than the next-best team in basketball (Golden State Warriors).

Sunday will be the second and final time these two heavyweights go head-to-head. Though despite the number of impressive teams in each conference, are we destined to see a 2021 Finals rematch in a few months?

The Suns and Bucks are hitting their strides at the right time

Both Milwaukee and Phoenix have less than 20 games left until the postseason. So they picked as good a time as ever to play some of their most-inspired basketball of the season.

The Bucks were struggling at the All-Star break, losing three of their final four contests. But Giannis and company have come out hot since the break, winning their last three games against the Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat, and Chicago Bulls.

The victories are coming at a good time for the Bucks. While they’ve usually been considered a title threat this year, they were mostly playing around .500 basketball since Jan. 1.

As for the Suns, the NBA’s top dog is going through their toughest stretch of the season right now. Paul is out with a thumb injury, leaving Phoenix to navigate without its floor general for six to eight weeks.

Yet even without CP3, the Suns are getting it done. Phoenix won back-to-back games without Paul or Booker, who’s out due to health and safety protocols. At full strength, the first-place club has had winning streaks of 11 and eight games since the new year.

Are the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks destined to meet in the Finals again?

There are a lot of quality teams capable of winning it all. Out West, the Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, and Denver Nuggets are equipped to give the Suns trouble. Over in the East, the Heat, Bulls, Philadelphia 76ers, and Boston Celtics are all right there next to the Bucks.

So what’s the probability Phoenix and Milwaukee make it through their conferences and meet in the Finals for the second year in a row? It really depends on who you ask.

Basketball Reference‘s Playoff Probabilities Report runs 10,000 simulations for the remainder of the season and compiles the average results. To no surprise, the Suns are the heavy favorites to win the West. BR gives Phoenix a 38.4% chance to take the conference and an NBA-best 28.3% chance to win the Finals. However, the Bucks only have a 12.5% probability of winning the East, the third-highest odds in the conference.

For perspective, the Cleveland Cavaliers nearly have the same odds (12.3%) but have a higher probability to win the title (4.1%).

However, Milwaukee gets a lot more love from FiveThirtyEight‘s running projections. Using 50,000 simulations and the site’s player projection model, the Bucks have a 25% chance to make the Finals and a 14% chance to win them. Phoenix ranks just slightly ahead with a 32% probability of winning the West and a 17% likelihood to claim the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Interestingly, only one team ranks in the same tier as both Phoenix and Milwaukee. The 38-27 Celtics are currently given 31% odds to win their conference and a sizable 19% chance to win their 18th championship.

It’s far more likely we’ll see the Suns in the Finals than the defending-champion Bucks

Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo tries to drive past Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder.
Jae Crowder #99 of the Phoenix Suns defends Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks. | Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Although the playoffs are quickly approaching, a lot can change over the next few weeks. Injuries and major momentum swings that simply can’t be accounted for yet will inevitably take place and spoil what we all think we know.

That said, you should feel pretty good about the Suns making another Finals run.

Barring an epic collapse, the Western Conference playoffs will run through the Valley. But the Suns are just as lethal on the road (23-5) as they are at home (28-7), giving opponents no real advantage. Phoenix also ranks third in both offensive and defensive rating. With top-level stars and depth for days, good luck taking four out of seven games against this team.

But what about the Bucks? It still feels like Milwaukee hasn’t reached its top gear yet. While it’s fifth in offensive rating, it’s also just 13th in defensive rating. Although last year’s title team finished sixth and 10th, respectively.

The biggest problem facing the Bucks is the talent level surrounding them near the top of the East. Miami is a juggernaut that boasts playoff experience and Phoenix-like depth. Philadelphia has looked unstoppable since pairing James Harden and Joel Embiid. And that’s not even getting to Chicago, Boston, and Cleveland, three tough teams who can defend with the best of them when fully healthy.

The power of Giannis might be enough to will the Bucks toward another Finals appearance. But the way things look now, the Suns will reach the Finals and see an unfamiliar face.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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