Sizing up the Bucks’ chances in the playoffs (yes, the Bucks are in the playoffs)
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Believe it or not, the Milwaukee Bucks are in the playoffs. Following a season that found coach Scott Skiles parting ways with the organization, Brandon Jennings repeatedly stressing his desire to play elsewhere, an unforgettable Vanilla Ice halftime performance, and future star Tobias Harris being packaged with Doron Lamb and Beno Udrih to get J.J. Redick from the Orlando Magic, Milwaukee still managed to back into the post-season. Back in its all-too-familiar eighth seed, the deer wander into the oncoming headlights of the playoffs for the first time since the 2009-10 season, and as the only of the 16 combined NBA playoff teams to post a losing regular season record.
Much of that uniquely sad distinction is thanks to belonging to the top-heavy Eastern Conference that features such atrocious teams as the Orlando Magic, Charlotte Bobcats, Philadelphia 76ers, and Washington Wizards (all of whom have beaten the Bucks within the past five weeks). Additionally, some timely wins against quality opponents and not intentionally tanking to improve its odds in the draft lottery have coalesced into the perfect playoff storm that’s helped deliver the franchise to its ultimate goal: getting its budget narrowly into the black.
In qualifying for the playoffs, Milwaukee earns the right to play Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, and (somehow) Juwan Howard of the defending champion Miami Heat in the team’s first and—let’s be honest, probably only—round matchup. However, it is technically a new season in which nothing that happened to this point really matters any more. That can only work to Milwaukee’s favor. Can the Bucks pull off the biggest upset in NBA playoff history en route to winning its first playoff series since the 2000-01 campaign? Or will they just remain your ticket to Ugh-mazing for four or five more games? The A.V. Club puts on its not-at-all ironic Vin Baker jersey and takes a closer look at the first-round proceedings.
The Larry Sanders no-show?
Much of the reason the Bucks even find themselves in the playoffs rests in the long arms of Larry Sanders. Once demoted to the NBA Developmental League and being fit by some for a bust placard, the former 15th overall pick has come into his own in his third season. With more than 200 blocked shots to his credit (second in the NBA) and adding some much-needed offensive prowess to his arsenal, Sanders is on the short list for the NBA’s Defensive Player Of The Year and Most Improved honors.
However, Sanders hasn’t played since injuring himself in Orlando April 10. Though day-to-day, the imposing defender’s nagging lower back injury and the rustiness incurred through 20 days of inactivity could prove problematic for Milwaukee’s hopes of stopping the three-headed offensive juggernaut that is the Miami Heat. To advance, Sanders must hoist the Bucks on his back. The question is, can he support them?
History hopefully not repeating
If regular season meetings are any indication of how this series will go, Milwaukee is in for a world of hurt. In four Bucks/Heat contests, Milwaukee is 1-3 and has been outscored by Miami 399 to 387. The only reason the point totals don’t seem disparaging is Milwaukee’s only win was a 104-85 blowout at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on December 29.
Oddly enough, in the one Bucks win against Miami, James and Wade combined for 50 of the Heat's 85 points. Conversely, the Bucks had five players with double-digit point totals. Basically, Milwaukee must get offensive production from everyone, and either do the unimaginable by limiting scoring from Miami’s big two, or let them score at will and hope every other Miami player simultaneously shits the bed. Sounds easy enough, right?
Leave it on the court
The opening round-one vs. eighth-seed matchup is always skewed, but the Heat and Bucks series is historically stark in the caliber and notoriety of the teams involved. The former features three of the best players in the league today (and potentially the best player ever) that have captured 65 wins—including 27 in a row—between All-Star appearances and raking in millions by pitching every product imaginable. The latter has 38 wins and an interim coach, arguably some of the best players in Milwaukee (hey, Marquette made it pretty far in the tournament this year!), lost to the Bobcats twice, and carries enough star power to warrant a cameo in Movie 43.
Really, the Bucks have nothing to lose by taking every measure to win this series. Most fans, basketball analysts, and (likely even) Heat players are already looking past Milwaukee and toward the next round. The way we see it, there are only two possible outcomes: Either the Bucks make history, restore the team’s ailing reputation in a city that’s generally indifferent to its existence, and we all get a free taco for some reason—or Milwaukee does the expected and gets ousted immediately.