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What is the Bucks’ Ceiling This Year?

With one game left in the season, the Bucks have long since clinched both the best record in the NBA and thus secured home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. They are both the number one seed in the Eastern Conference and the only team in the league to reach 60 wins this year. As of the morning of April 9, there are four teams that could potentially end up at eighth seed in the East. Those teams are the Charlotte Hornets, Detroit Pistons, Miami Heat or the Orlando Magic. So how have the Bucks (and specifically Giannis Antetokounmpo) fared against these teams this season?

Eastern Conference Playoffs

As a disclaimer, while the other players on the team are important, the playoffs are when superstars truly shine, which is why only Giannis’ PPG average is highlighted in this analysis. Besides, the performance of the rest of the team is indicated by the point differential statistic. The table below illustrates the Bucks’ record vs. each potential Eastern Conference playoff team, as well as their point differential and Antetokounmpo’s performance.

Eastern Conference First Round

Vs. Charlotte Hornets

Despite going just 1-3 against the Bucks, the Hornets played decent basketball against the Bucks and one of those losses was by just one point. Furthermore, Giannis scored less and on worse efficiency against Charlotte as compared to his season averages.

Vs. Detroit Pistons

While the Pistons got swept on the season, they did hold Giannis to a measly 20.8 points. Giannis remained efficient from the field, but the Pistons only gave him four free throws per game across their four match ups. Furthermore, the Pistons’ frontcourt limited Giannis to just 8.8 rebounds per contest, which is well below his season average.

Vs. Miami Heat

The Heat got blown out in their three losses, however, they successfully kept Giannis from having any massive games. He did take significantly fewer shots than his average with just 14.8 attempts (compare to 17.3) per game, however.

Vs. Orlando Magic

Much like with the Pistons, Giannis’ scoring average was down against the Magic, and it was primarily due to him only taking about five free throws per game. Furthermore, he shot the ball 14.5 times per game, which is again below his season average.

First Round Summary

The ideal opponent for the Bucks is definitely the Miami Heat, followed by the Detroit Pistons. When Milwaukee won, they won by a lot. While the Magic put up lowest point differential against the Bucks, this was mostly due to winning big in their single victory, which offset their two considerable losses in the other two match-ups. It seems that the Hornets might be the most difficult opponent for the Bucks, however, Charlotte is the least likely of the four to make the playoffs at this point.

Eastern Conference Second Round

Regardless of who the Bucks play in the first round, a win will pit them against either the Boston Celtics or Indiana Pacers in the second round.

Vs. Boston Celtics

The Celtics got blown out by 13 in one matchup, however they lost by just a single point in their most recent matchup. Despite keeping things close, they’ve struggled to contain Giannis this season, and on top of his ridiculous scoring average, The Greek Freak is averaging 12.7 free throws per game against Boston.

Vs. Indiana Pacers

Unlike the Celtics, the Pacers did a better job of keeping Giannis off the line, and he attempted just 6.8 free throws per game against Indiana. The Pacers did struggle more with keeping Antetokounmpo off the boards, however, as he averaged 14.0 rebounds per game (vs. 10.7 per game against Boston).

Second Round Summary

Even with the Celtics’ chemistry issues this season, they have a lot more weapons on both ends of the floor than the Pacers do and are much less desirable an opponent. Although Giannis made it to the line more and scored more against Boston, his team performed much better against Indiana, making them the preferred opponent.

Eastern Conference Finals

The other side of the bracket will have the Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, and one of the Detroit Pistons or Orlando Magic. One of those teams will face the Bucks in the Conference Finals (assuming they make it there). Since we’ve already seen how the Bucks fare against the latter two teams, we’ll now look at Milwaukee’s performance against the former three.

Vs. Toronto Raptors

Antetokounmpo’s averages are for three games, as both Giannis and Kawhi Leonard sat for the team’s first match-up. Without either team’s star, the Bucks managed a 124-109 victory. While the Bucks’ point differential is considerable, the teams last played in January, and neither has faced each other’s post-trade deadline squad.

Vs. Philadelphia 76ers

Of all the Eastern Conference teams that the Bucks might face, Giannis has easily played the best against the 76ers. On top of his 43 point per game, he also grabbed 15.7 rebounds and averaged 17 free throws per contest.

Vs. Brooklyn Nets

The one game that the Nets bested the Bucks this season, Giannis was out with a nagging injury. When he did play, however, the Bucks won handily.

Eastern Conference Finals Summary

Of the five teams that the Bucks might face, they should hope for the Nets, Pistons or Magic, but it goes without saying that they’ll almost certainly get one of the 76ers or Raptors. Of the latter two, they probably want Philly if they have to pick one. Giannis has performed exceptionally well against the 76ers this year, and while the 76er starting lineup is probably the best in the East, they lack a player of Kawhi Leonard’s caliber and experience level in the postseason.

NBA Finals

If the Bucks win the East, they’ll probably be taking on the Warriors, however, we’ll take a quick look at their records against the other seven playoff teams in the West.

Vs. Golden State Warriors

Despite the teams tying in the season series and the Bucks pulling out a win by 23, these teams met in November and then in December. Furthermore, neither of Draymond Green or DeMarcus Cousins was active for either game, meaning that the Bucks haven’t seen a full-strength Golden State this season. The Warriors also did a solid job of defending Antetokounmpo in these games, however, he did average just 14.5 shots per night.

Vs. Denver Nuggets

The Bucks performed well against the Nuggets going 2-0. Antetokounmpo had his usual scoring, rebounding and assist numbers and he was pretty efficient in those two games.

Vs. Houston Rockets

While the Rockets lost both matchups by a decent amount, they were missing Chris Paul for one of those games. Additionally, they defended Giannis well and held him to a relatively inefficient 48.4% from the floor.

Vs. Portland Trail Blazers

The Blazers did alright when they met with the Bucks the first time around, however they lost by 43 in their second match up. Without Jusuf Nurkic, they will likely struggle to defend Giannis at the rim.

Vs. Utah Jazz

Utah is likely one of the hardest match ups for the Bucks given that their defense is second only to Milwaukee’s. While the Bucks have a better offense, Giannis averaged 28 shots to get his 36.5 points per game, which is not necessarily ideal.

Vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder’s defense on Giannis in their one matchup was nothing short of incredible. They schemed perfectly against him, and while he ended with (an inefficient) 27 points and 18 rebounds, he made zero field goals and just two free throws in the first half.

Vs. San Antonio Spurs

Any team coached by Gregg Popovich makes for a tough matchup, and despite Giannis’ excellent performance in his two games against the Spurs, San Antonio could definitely take a few games off Milwaukee.

Vs. Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers are a solid team, but the Bucks should pray that they make it out of the West because they are likely the easiest Finals opponent (potentially save for a Nurkic-less Blazers).

NBA Finals Summary

Obviously, the Bucks would rather not face the Warriors, but the Spurs, Thunder and Jazz all seem like undesirable matchups as well. The Rockets are also a strong team, however, it remains to be seen if Harden will maintain his ridiculous scoring ability throughout the playoffs. Overall, it seems as though the Bucks can beat any team in the league, however, if any team would create a ceiling for them, it’ll be Golden State.

Stats courtesy of ESPN

Featured image courtesy of Benny Sieu, USA TODAY Sports

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