by Daniel Friedman / @DFried615
The Miami Heat will arrive at their first post-season match poised to defend their title. With LeBron James playing a legendary level of basketball as of late, ring No. 2 may be next on his list of things to tack off after potentially securing the MVP award for the regular season.
The Milwaukee Bucks enter this series with a young roster still learning to play well together. Larry Sanders has been a defensive beast, and Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings are each a 30-point threat on any given night. But, they’ve endured a disappointing month of April dropping seven of the last 10 games. With the Heat playing the best ball we’ve seen in years, Milwaukee has no chance of advancing simply because their up against Goliath.
Let’s see how the teams stack up at each position:
Point Guard: Brandon Jennings (17.5 ppg, 6.5 apg, 3.1 rpg) vs Mario Chalmers (8.6 ppg, 4.3 apg, 2.2 rpg)
Jennings has improved this season shooting better from everywhere and distributing the ball more than ever. He’s also leading the team in assists with 6.5 per game. Jennings holds the advantage over Mario Chalmers because of what he does on the offensive side of the ball. But Chalmers has the ability to hit big shots and has proven he can put up big numbers quickly. With LeBron playing at such a high level, the pressure will be off of Chalmers offensively. But defensively, it will be up to him to lock down one of Milwaukee’s best players.
Shooting Guard: Monta Ellis (19.2 ppg/6.0 apg/3.9 rpg) vs Dwyane Wade (21.2 ppg/5.1 apg/5.0 rpg)
In one of the most even matchups of the series, Dwyane Wade holds the advantage. After coming off of an average season, Monta Ellis can shine in the Playoffs if he can outplay Wade and give the Bucks points, but Wade has been playing some of the best ball of his career, quietly. So the advantage ticks toward Wade, simply for his efficiency and effectiveness on the court this season. In 69 games, Wade’s PER is higher than Kobe Bryant and James Harden.
Small Forward: Mike Dunleavy (10.5 ppg/1.9 apg/3.9 rpg) vs LeBron James (26.8 ppg/7.3 apg/8.0 rpg)
With the easiest matchup evaluation of the Playoffs, LeBron James gets the nod over Dunleavy without question. Dunleavy’s a savvy veteran who will give the Bucks some offense. But the soon-to-be MVP of the regular season had a League-leading PER at 31.67 and outshined Kevin Durant in a year when Durant lost the scoring title to Carmelo Anthony by 0.6 points per game and became the sixth player in League history to post shooting percentages better than 50 from the field, 40 from the three and 90 from the charity stripe. Even with a true shooting percentage above 64 percent, Durant was left in the shadow of James. In this series and postseason, look for LeBron to continue his dominance and carry the Heat to the franchise’s third title.
Power Forward: Ersan Ilyasova (13.2 ppg/7.1 rpg/1.6 apg) vs Udonis Haslem (3.9 ppg/5.4 rpg/0.5 apg)
Udonis Haslem has been a solid presence for the Heat down low through the years. But at this point in his career, he’s playing sparingly. Guys like Shane Battier and Rashard Lewis have been getting shuffled in and out of the rotation, offering the ability to spread the floor a bit more and open things up for more three-point shots. Haslem has always provided toughness on the inside, and that will be key going up against a team ranked fifth in rebounding this season. In this matchup, Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova takes the advantage. Ilyasova averaged 15 points a game in the month of April and shot 51 percent from downtown. For the Bucks to have a chance in this series, they need to be firing on all cylinders, and Ilyasova is one of them.
Center: Larry Sanders (9.8 ppg/9.5 rpg/2.8 bpg) vs Chris Bosh (16.6 ppg/6.8 rpg/1.4 bpg)
The third leg of the Miami Heat tripod, Chris Bosh is going to be a key piece to their team’s second consecutive title. In this series, Bosh will be banging down low with Bucks big man and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Larry Sanders. Sanders took major leaps and bounds in the progression of his career this season, becoming a defensive anchor for Milwaukee to build around. With these two in the paint, all eyes will be on how well they protect the inside. In another close position battle, Bosh has the advantage.
Prediction: In the regular-season series between the two Eastern Conference squads, the Heat held the advantage winning three out of their four matchups. The Bucks have the potential to steal a win late in the series, similar to their victory in the regular season on December 29, 2012. The Heat gave them everything they had with the LeBron-Wade-Bosh trio combining for 62 points. But it wasn’t enough and the Bucks trounced the defending Champs, 104-85. The Heat have also lost a game in the opening series of each of the last two Playoffs.
With one win in the first round series against the Champs, the Bucks will be out. Their Playoff run will end quicker than the Lakers, but not as quickly as the Jazz, who only got to dream about the chance to slip into that 8-seed and drop Los Angeles into a dreadful offseason. So be grateful, Milwaukee. You had a chance to steal a win from a team that will go down in history.
Heat Win 4-1.