As of game four in their first-round series against the Orlando Magic, the Milwaukee Bucks currently have a 3-1 series lead. The Bucks appear comfortable after losing the opening game, and led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, they look like they came ready to play. The Bucks have high expectations heading into the playoffs this year, even though it’s taking place in a bubble.
They won’t have home-court advantage as they hoped, but they still have one of the best teams in the NBA at the moment — quite possibly the best. But are they good enough to avoid the fate that befell them in last year’s playoffs?
The Bucks’ 2019 playoff result
If the Bucks’ regular-season dominance this year looks familiar, that’s because they were in a similar position last season. According to Basketball Reference, they won 60 games during the 2018-2019 season under head coach Mike Budenholzer.
That was good enough for the number one overall seed in the Eastern Conference. They coasted through the first two rounds of the playoffs, sweeping the Detroit Pistons and defeating the Boston Celtics 4-1.
Where they ran into problems was against the eventual NBA champion Toronto Raptors. They took a decisive 2-0 series lead that included a 125-103 blowout victory in game two. Unfortunately, it would go downhill from there for them. After losing game three in double OT, the Bucks lost the remaining three games of the series for a 4-2 series loss.
The Bucks 2020 season so far
Prior to the pandemic, the Bucks were sitting pretty yet again at the top of the East. They finished the 2020 regular season with a record of 56-17, again good for first place in the conference. For the second year in a row, they led the league in scoring. They actually moved up defensively speaking — in 2019 they finished 11th and this year they were eighth.
Antetokounmpo was again the team’s most impactful player, assuming his spot as one of the league’s best. One of the drawbacks of this season for Milwaukee was the shutdown, however. While every team was affected by the COVID-19 lockdown, the Bucks essentially saw their home court advantage wiped out.
The NBA decided to return in a bubble atmosphere at Walt Disney World without fans in attendance. That meant that the Bucks number one seed was rendered all but meaningless (though they still get to play the conference’s worst playoff team to begin the tournament).
Why the Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks aren’t worried about last year’s playoff loss
Bleacher Report released a piece on whether the Bucks were worried about losing momentum following the shutdown. The Bucks understand that they missed out on home-court advantage through no fault of their own. And they understand how much of a challenge it is to win in this incredibly unique and difficult atmosphere. They’ve had several months off and are playing on a neutral floor.
One advantage the Bucks have is that every other team is facing the same tough conditions they are. If you think it’s hard for a 56-win team to win a title in this climate, imagine how much harder it will be for teams who didn’t have that kind of success in the regular season.
As the Bleacher Report piece notes, the Bucks are playing the same style this year that they did last year. That includes:
- On offense: isolations, a lot of three-pointers, and minimal pick and rolls.
- On defense: “conceding” three-pointers and relying on Brook Lopez to provide outstanding interior defense.
That formula has worked wonders so far over the past two regular seasons. By keeping the same basic system in place and running it for yet another year, Antetokounmpo and the Bucks have only gotten better at mastering what they’re best at. That puts them in a great position to take the title this year.