The Milwaukee Bucks, lest we forget, are the defending champions. Giannis Antetokounmpo delivered a monster performance in the NBA Finals, cementing his status as one of the league’s greatest to ever play. They brought back nearly everyone from that title-winning team, and yet fans seem to forget about them when it comes to Finals predictions.
The Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets have done a lot, and I mean a LOT, of roster rebuilding this off-season. The Nets brought back Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, and Bruce Brown from their previous stint, and acquired LaMarcus Aldridge and Patty Mills in free agency. Just recently, they traded DeAndre Jordan, who is reportedly signing with the Lakers, for Jahlil Okafor and Sekou Doumbouya,
Speaking of the Lakers, they’ve also done a lot of changing around their roster. They signed a bunch of solid veterans, most notably, Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo from their championship roster, Malik Monk, Kendrick Nunn, and LeBron James’ Banana Boat brother Carmelo Anthony. Oh, and they also traded for some guy named Russell Westbrook. He’s pretty good, I hear. Not sure though.
Lakers vs Nets – NBA Finals 2022 pic.twitter.com/qUSxpnB3tY
— Kobe Brasil (@BrasilKobe) September 2, 2021
We’re going to get Nets-Lakers.
It will be billed as the most star studded NBA Finals ever.
And the Nets are going to absolutely smoke them.
— Micah Adams (@MicahAdams13) September 3, 2021
The Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets in the NBA finals in June 2022 pic.twitter.com/UtHcP72LQe
— Shamar English (@english_shamar) August 28, 2021
But for the Nets to get there, they’ll have to eliminate the Bucks first, and that’s easier said than done.
The Nets are a star-studded team, don’t get me wrong. When all three of Durant, James Harden, are 100% healthy, they’re the best team in the league by a mile. There’s just no stopping them. All three of them are players capable of calling their own shots and facilitating the offense. And with shooters and rim finishers surrounding them, they have a deadly offense and a pretty decent defense at best.
However, the key word here is IF they’re 100% healthy. Irving is notoriously unable to stay healthy, playing only 20 games in the 2019-2020 season and 54 in the 2020-2021 season. Durant might still have some lingering issues with his leg. Harden is the most injury-proof guy out of the three, but his hamstring injury last season might pose issues down the line.
The Bucks, on the other hand, have stars that have proven they could stay healthy. We’ve already seen Antetokounmpo bounce back from a nasty-looking knee sprain to whoop the Phoenix Suns in the Finals. For most of Khris Middleton’s career, he’s never had to sit out long periods or have nagging injury issues. Jrue Holiday has had his fair share of injuries, but over the recent years he’s been a lot more injury-free.
Also, the Bucks are arguably the worst matchup for the Nets. Despite losing PJ Tucker to the Miami Heat, the Bucks still have a bevy of guys they can throw at KD: Bobby Portis, Khris Middleton, and newly-acquired Semi Ojeleye can do some work on the Slim Reaper. Giannis is a great help defender to close out on any Kyrie or Harden penetration, especially if he’s put on a non-shooter so he’s able to freely help. And of course, Jrue Holiday is a nightmare matchup for any guard in the league, including Harden and Irving.
Other matchups for the Bucks in the East range from promising to 50/50 at best. The Miami Heat have gone ahead and retooled their roster, trading for Kyle Lowry, acquiring Tucker, and. The Philadelphia 76ers look like a decent threat to the Bucks, but with Ben Simmons either leaving or not interested on playing for the Sixers, they are almost a non-factor. Past those three teams, no other team poses a real threat for the Bucks.
Out in the West, the Lakers aren’t a sure-fire lock to make the Finals. But if they do, they might have some trouble against the Bucks. Against a team that is focused on deterring shots at the rim, LeBron James’ declining athleticism will hurt him, likely forcing him into outside jumpers. They do have Marc Gasol, who was essential in the famed “wall” that the Toronto Raptors built to stop Giannis in their title run.
But Giannis is now immune to that wall, as he’s developed a better passing game and more mini-moves to get around that wall. Plus, losing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will bite them in the butt in this matchup, since there’s no good defender for the Lakers against a strong and quick guard like Jrue Holiday.
Some may point to Jrue Holiday’s offensive struggles as a key weak point in the Bucks’ title defense. However, it’s possible that a) it’s an outlier, since Holiday has performed reasonably well in his most recent playoff outing in NOLA, and b) he was still acclimating to life with Giannis Antetokounmpo, which can be remedied by a year’s worth of experience with him.
His other backcourt mate, Khris Middleton, can be hit or miss at times, but when he hits, oh boy, is it fun to watch. Both are also solid defenders at worst, so even if they’re struggling offensively, they still have an impact on the other side.
We’ve already made the big mistake of counting out Giannis and the Bucks last season. Even when they looked good in the regular season, many of us thought that the Heat could repeat their magic against them in the bubble. We dismissed their chances of winning against the Nets after they got curb stomped in Game 2. And when Giannis went down in the series against Atlanta, we thought they were done for.
But time and time again, the Bucks didn’t buckle under the pressure. No matter how many people didn’t believe in them, they pushed through. Now, they have championship experience coursing through their veins, and the failures of previous years guiding them. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks are ready to do it all over again and remind the world that they’re still a force to be reckoned with.