Pretty much all season when talking about the Eastern Conference contenders it's been Philly this, Brooklyn that, blah blah blah. You can understand why, both of those teams have been fairly dominant all year long. For some reason though, it feels like the Bucks are being talked about as a team that isn't in the same tier as the previous two. I'm having a hard time understanding why that's the case. Is it Bucks fatigue? You could argue that they need to prove it in the playoffs after underachieving these last two years, but how is that any different than the Sixers? What have the Nets proven? I mean Giannis is putting up nearly identical numbers to his MVP seasons while shooting a career best from three and it's sort of been ignored when talking MVP narratives. After taking both games against the Nets a few days ago, the Bucks are now 5-1 against BKN/PHI. After beating the red hot Wizards last night, they sit just 1 game behind BKN for the 2 seed with 6 to play, and here is their closing schedule: HOU/SA/ORL/IND/MIA/CHI.
You could argue they shouldn't lose the rest of the way.
The majority of their season has consisted of experimenting with different strategies, especially when it comes to switching on defense. Despite all that, the Bucks still have a top 5 offense/top 7 defense/top 2 net rating. No other team in the top 3 seeds can say that. Their win profile is actually very similar to the Sixers when you look at it. They destroy bad teams (24-7), but are so/so against good ones (18-17). That's pretty close to PHI's 26-5 and 19-16.
Offensively, they've been just as dominant as you remember, even with some new faces. They lead the NBA in scoring at 119.6 points per game, are 3rd in FG% with 48.9%, 4th in 3PM and 2nd in 3P%. Oh, and they are doing all this despite being 25th in FTA. So why does it feel like when people talk about the true title contenders you hear a lot of names before you get to the Bucks? I feel like if any other contender was putting up this type of production and had this type of record against the top 2 seeds in their conference, THEY would be talked about as the overwhelming favorite.
It is true that when it comes to the Bucks, they are in a similar position as teams like LAC/PHI/UTA etc. It essentially all comes down to what they do in the postseason, regardless of how dominant they are during the regular season. I think that's more than fair given how things have gone these last few years. I just have a hard time understanding why it feels like they aren't talked about the same way the other East contenders are when they've been just as dominant and have had great success against both. It feels weird to suggest that a team with this type of production is flying under the radar, but to me they kind of are.
For two teams like BKN/MIL where homecourt is so important, locking in that 2 seed is massive. It looks like the Nets potentially fucked up by not really caring about the regular season/seeding and it most likely cost them the #1 seed and easiest playoff path. Now, with the Bucks surging they might find themselves with not only the harder playoff path, but not having homecourt in any round during their quest to the Finals. We have no idea what their health is going to look like, we do know their record is something shitty like 9-11 without James Harden. For my money, the way the Bucks are playing right now is as scary as any contender the league has, only with a fraction of the hype.
The Bucks put all their chips in the trio of Giannis/Middleton/Holiday and enter the playoffs with their coach on a bit of a hot seat. It'll be fascinating to see this version in a series, because at the moment they look like a team that can absolutely come out of the East. Even if all the talk and focus is on everyone else.