Playoffs Begin Saturday For Milwaukee Bucks

Bucks Face Heat In Rematch Of Last Year's Postseason

Khris Middleton passes the ball
Milwaukee Bucks’ Khris Middleton (22) looks for a teammate to pass to in the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game against the Miami Heat Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Mark J. Terrill/AP Photo

After the Miami Heat knocked the Milwaukee Bucks out of last year’s NBA bubble, the Bucks will be hoping to avoid another early-round exit when the teams meet in the playoffs beginning Saturday.

For the No. 3 Bucks, things look a little different this year. Rather than sailing through the regular season, Milwaukee did some more experimenting, especially on defense. The Bucks also faced some adversity, which could be an asset during the playoffs. The team’s identity this season centers around toughness, forward Khris Middleton told reporters.

“I feel great about where we’re at,” he said. “You always want to be trying to play your best basketball at this point, and I think we’re right there, or if we’re not there, we’re close to it.”

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It’s not the first time Middleton will face an opponent in back-to-back playoffs, but he thinks teams change too much from year to year to read much into it, he said. The Bucks themselves are a new team this season, he said. The most prominent addition is point guard Jrue Holiday, who proved integral to the team’s success this regular season. The Bucks lost five consecutive games while he was out with COVID-19 in February.

“The mental, the physical, the skill set, everything he has and brings to the table — I think those are all things that translate and are important in the playoffs,” coach Mike Budenholzer said.

Meanwhile, the Bucks didn’t see Heat star Jimmy Butler during this year’s regular season. He played a lights-out series against the Bucks in last year’s postseason, but he’s struggled with injuries this season. When the teams met last weekend, he missed the game due to back tightness.

“There’s a ton of respect for Jimmy Butler and what he does, how he plays, how he impacts their offense, impacts their defense,” Budenholzer said.

Last season, Milwaukee’s second-round playoff exit came amid unusual circumstances.

The Bucks were set to have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs before the season was paused due to the coronavirus, then shifted to a single site in Florida. Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo was injured during the Heat series, and the Bucks were navigating their major role in the social justice movement.

Wesley Matthews
Milwaukee Bucks’ Wesley Matthews, left, is defended by Miami Heat’s Jae Crowder (99) in the first half of an NBA conference semifinal playoff basketball game Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Mark J. Terrill/AP Photo

Antetokounmpo’s numbers this season are on par with his previous MVP campaigns, but he’s not considered the favorite to win. Still, Budenholzer credited him for his continued improvements, especially when it comes to shooting. Antetokounmpo signed a contract extension last offseason, which might also take some pressure off this playoffs.

The Bucks finished the regular season three games behind the Philadelphia 76ers and two behind the Brooklyn Nets, meaning Milwaukee is only guaranteed home-court advantage in the first round. The team will aim to make the most of it, with fan capacity at Fiserv Forum increasing to 50 percent.

This year’s playoffs took on a new format, starting with a play-in tournament that pitted the No. 7 through 10 seeds against one another for the final two playoff spots in each conference. The Bucks and the Heat tipoff at 1 p.m. Saturday.