Brandon Jennings may be the only person in the country who thinks the Milwaukee Bucks can take down the Miami Heat in a seven-game series. In fact, he foresaw Milwaukee winning in six, so they'll need to win four of the next five games.
While his confidence should be commended, his teammates reacted to that bravado with about as much confidence as Dwyane Wade (via interviews with Craig Sager on TNT). Jennings did his part in Game 1, scoring 26 points on 8-of-20 shooting, plus four steals.
Unfortunately for him, LeBron James made one more shot on nine fewer attempts, finishing with a game-high 27 points and just shy of a triple-double. Monta Ellis helped Jennings with 22 of his own, but the rest of the Bucks slept through Game 1. For Game 2, Milwaukee might as well throw its loose change in a fountain and make a wish.
Time: Tuesday, April 23, 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: American Airlines Arena, Miami, Fla.
Series Record: 1-0 Heat
TV: NBA TV
Game 2 Key Storyline: Protect the Paint!
In Sunday's 110-87 loss, the Bucks scored a respectable 34 points in the paint. The only problem was that Miami scored 50 points there, accounting for most of the 23-point margin of victory.
LeBron James turned in a ridiculously efficient performance, largely due to his 8-of-9 shooting in the painted area. As a team, the Heat shot 23-of-28 on the interior (82.1 percent) and 26-of-32 if you include the mid-range wings.
Foul trouble limited Larry Sanders to just 19 minutes in Game 1. Milwaukee will need his shot-blocking prowess and top-notch help defense for roughly double that amount of court time. As a team, the Bucks had 10 steals but zero blocks on defense.
In the regular season, Sanders finished second in blocks per game and the Bucks finished second as a team. It will be imperative for Milwaukee to disrupt the Heat on the interior and force them to rely on contested jump shots.
Series Star So Far
No surprise here. LeBron James turned in an utterly ridiculous night on Sunday. The Chosen One tallied 27 points on 9-of-11 shooting, 10 boards and eight dimes. We'll consider his five turnovers an anomaly.
This prompted an onslaught of unusual and incredible advanced stats. According to Elias (via ESPN), in his 116th playoff game, LeBron tied his postseason career low for field-goal attempts and set his career high for shooting percentage (81.8 percent).
Not to mention, this was the eighth time in the playoffs that LeBron led all other players in points, rebounds and assists in a game.
For some perspective, in the shot-clock era, James' eight such games surpassed the combined total of the next three players—Larry Bird (three), Michael Jordan (two) and Shaquille O'Neal (two).
He's quite simply the best and most versatile player in the NBA by a considerable margin.
Projected Starting Lineups
Milwaukee: Brandon Jennings, PG; Monta Ellis, SG; Ersan Ilyasova, SF; Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, PF; Larry Sanders, C
Miami: Mario Chalmers, PG; Dwyane Wade, SG; LeBron James, SF; Udonis Haslem, PF; Chris Bosh, C
Bucks Injury Report (via ESPN.com)
Ersan Ilyasova (wrist), day-to-day; Larry Sanders (back), day-to-day
Heat Injury Report
Bucks Will Win If...
Jennings, Ellis and J.J. Redick combine for over 75 points. And no, I'm not kidding.
On Sunday, aside from their starting backcourt of Jennings and Ellis, no Bucks players scored more than six points. Redick managed six points on just 1-of-6 shooting. He can score in bunches when he's in rhythm, and he'll have to get things going ASAP.
The rest of the Bucks lineup must cast off their scoring woes as well. For example, Ersan Ilyasova was cover-your-eyes awful in Game 1, managing two points on 1-of-7 shooting. If the Bucks backcourt can pour in the points, merely average output from everyone else could very well result in a Game 2 upset.
Heat Will Win If...
Nothing goes horribly wrong. Miami is the superior team by a clear margin. In Game 1, they outshot (55.9 percent to 41.5 percent) and out-rebounded Milwaukee (46 to 31) and got to the line 13 more times. And their defense is also vastly superior.
Merely examining the overall stats only yields part of the picture. They finished the season ranked seventh in defensive efficiency while Milwaukee was 12th (points allowed per 100 possessions). But when the game in on the line, only the Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies can match Miami's defensive intensity.
The Heat have a fairly clear modus operandi, and it was no different during their impressive 27-game winning streak. They hang around for the first half and then dominate the second half. In Game 1, they had a seven-point advantage at halftime and outscored Milwaukee 58-42 over the final two quarters.
Miami appears capable of supplementing their incredible offensive attack with lockdown defense whenever they choose, while Milwaukee lacks the weapons in its frontcourt to keep pace with the elite Heat.
If the Bucks offense gets going, do they have a shot to win Game 2?
Milwaukee could opt to start Mike Dunleavy over Ilyasova for Game 2. The Turkish national was clearly bothered by his sore wrist, as he missed six of his seven shots.
Though Dunleavy totaled only three starts during the regular season, he knocked down his threes at a 42.8 percent clip. The Bucks will be looking for all the scoring they can get, so he could get the nod, not that it will make much difference in the outcome.
Milwaukee will make some adjustments after a disappointing second half on Sunday, and that will keep Game 2 competitive—until Miami turns up the intensity down the stretch.
The Heat will run away with this one again, but at lest the Bucks figure to score some respect points and hang around until the fourth quarter.
Miami Heat 106, Milwaukee Bucks 92