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#pounditThursday, October 28, 2021

Stories by Jack Reining:

Bucks-Heat series preview and analysis

Jimmy Butler

After dismantling inferior opponents in the first round, the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat are primed to deliver one of the most entertaining second-round series this postseason. The Bucks finished atop the Eastern Conference for the second straight season, leading many to believe they are poised for their first Finals appearance since NBA-legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 1974 MVP season.

Out of all their intraconference adversaries, the Heat present one of the most formidable challenges for Milwaukee. While regular-season results hold less merit in playoff matchups, it’s worth noting that Miami was the only team from the East to post a winning record against the Bucks this season. Although the sample size from the regular season was limited to three matchups, those games provided both teams with a blueprint for winning their playoff duel.

Ranking third and sixth respectively in total three-pointers made this year, the Bucks and Heat rely on the long ball for a substantial portion of their offense. The winner of the three-point line will be a significant determining factor in the series’s outcome, but how each team generates its looks from deep will be even more crucial.

The Heat and Bucks have both done outstanding jobs surrounding their superstar players with the right role players to maximize their strengths. Each team has adopted their star player’s playing style, resulting in two teams with opposed basketball ideologies.

For Milwaukee, that means an up-tempo brand of basketball that allows Giannis Antetounkmpo to fly through defenses in transition on his way to the rim. Miami and Jimmy Butler prefer a more methodical pace as they slowly dissect the weaknesses in their opposition. Controlling the pace will be crucial in a battle that pins the fastest team in the NBA in Milwaukee, against the third-slowest, Miami.

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Standout performers of the NBA playoffs so far

Luka Doncic

Following the most unprecedented regular season in the history of the NBA, the 2020 playoffs have officially kicked off. Familiarity truly does breed contempt, and housing all of the postseason adversaries in one compound has only furthered the intensity.

Here are four of the standout performers from the first week of the NBA playoffs.

Halle-Luka

Every generational superstar has a defining moment or game in their career when their greatness becomes abundantly clear. Kobe Bryant’s came during the 2000 NBA Finals when he was just 21 years old, as he led the Lakers to a game four victory in overtime after Shaquille O’Neal fouled out. For LeBron James, it was scoring 25 straight points as the Cavaliers upset the Detroit Pistons in 2007. Despite it only being the first round of the playoffs, Luka Doncic’s Game 4 performance was his moment.

Nothing signifies the gravity of a moment quite like a “double BANG” from Mike Breen. The only thing more impressive than the shot itself was that it served as the exclamation point to cap off Doncic’s 43 points, 17 rebounds, 13 assists triple-double effort. After rolling his ankle in the Maverick’s Game 3 loss, there was little reason for optimism in Dallas until Doncic delivered the most memorable game of the postseason so far. Doncic’s game has never been based around quickness; even on an injured ankle he’s been able to penetrate the Clippers’ defense at will.

In the playoffs, the Mavericks have simplified their offense. They regularly allowed Doncic to seek the mismatch he desires by forcing a switch through a ball screen. Watching Doncic dissect the defense is puzzling at times, as it appears almost as if he is lumbering around the screen until the moment he detects the opening and in one powerful burst he’s gone. His underrated explosion and size are reminiscent of James Harden, and factoring in the number of stepback threes each player makes, their shot profiles are remarkably similar.

The ultimate compliment for an NBA player comes from their opponents; look at what some of the NBA’s best had to say about Doncic.

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Three best developments from the NBA’s seeding games

Damian Lillard

Some of the greatest joys from the NBA’s return to action have been the storylines that emerged to captivate the attention of the bubble. In a league that delivers drama and intensity on a nightly basis, here are three of the most memorable storylines from the NBA’s seeding games.

Damian Lillard’s dazzling run in Disney

Michael Jordan made it abundantly clear during “The Last Dance” that great players are continually searching for a reason to get angry and subsequently raise their game. Damian Lillard is a great player who is officially ticked off. You don’t need to be an accomplished lip reader to see that Lillard has no qualms about letting that passion and anger show.

Lillard capped off what has been one of the most impressive stretches of basketball in recent history with a 42-point performance in Portland’s victory over the Brooklyn Nets. In a game in which a win meant securing a spot in the play-in game, and a loss meant packing their bags and leaving the NBA’s bubble, Lillard delivered when the stakes were at their highest. The Nets desperately tried to force the ball out of Lillard’s hands through double teams and matchup zone defenses, but Lillard was prepared. It’s impossible to double someone when they pull-up from the center court logo.

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Why the road to the NBA Finals in the West goes through Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis

Regardless of how you feel about LeBron James as a basketball player, there is no denying the impact he has had on the NBA. Even off the court, James is always thinking multiple moves ahead of his opponents. When James’ 13-year playoff streak was broken last season during his first campaign with the Lakers, it surprised no one to learn that the King had concocted a new plan.

That plan was appeasing Anthony Davis’ trade request by acquiring the seven-time All-Star from the New Orleans Pelicans.

With “The Brow” donning purple and gold, James took on a new challenge in his 17th season, making the transition to being the Lakers’ primary point guard. James passed this new test with flying colors, as he sits poised to capture his first assist title, while also leading the Lakers to the top record in the Western Conference. When the postseason begins, the Lakers can rest assured that James will continue to deliver his Hall of Fame-level contributions on a nightly basis. Still, it will be Davis, who will ultimately determine their fate.

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Why Lakers vs. Trail Blazers would make for a surprisingly intriguing playoff series

Damian Lillard

This season the Los Angeles Lakers hold a 17-2 record against the six teams competing in Orlando for the right to inevitably lose to them in the first round of the playoffs. It remains no secret that the basketball world yearns to see LeBron James and Zion Williamson square off in a ceremonious battle of the present versus the future this coming postseason. Guidelines weren’t explicitly put in place to ensure a Williamson versus James matchup, but it seems highly coincidental that the ninth seed must finish within four games of the eighth seed to force a play-in game for the final playoff spot, as the Pelicans currently sit 3.5 games back of the eighth-seeded Memphis. Also sitting 3.5 games back of the Grizzlies are both the Sacramento Kings and the Portland Trail Blazers.

While the Kings have continued to improve since their underwhelming 15-29 start to the season, the Trail Blazers remain the most intriguing matchup for the Lakers on account of one player alone: Damian Lillard.

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Four players who could swing the NBA playoffs

Paul George

The NBA playoffs have the uncanny ability to render a player’s body of work throughout the season meaningless, as players are often solely evaluated on their performances from when the stakes are at their highest. Certain players have the ability to bounce back from underwhelming regular seasons and silence their doubters in the postseason.

These are the players primed with the ability to overcome slow starts to their seasons and potentially alter this year’s championship race.

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5 NBA players with the most to prove in Orlando

Zion Williamson

An evaluation of an NBA player’s legacy is one of the most volatile aspects of the league, as in some cases, all it takes is a single game or shot to define an entire career. Every NBA player is looking to prove themselves whenever they step foot on the hardwood. However, there comes the point for specific players, where proving themselves becomes a necessity.

From former number one overall picks to potential league MVPs, here are the five players with the most to prove headed into Orlando.

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Most crucial questions facing Western Conference’s elite

Anthony Davis Lakers

The NBA is gearing up for a return next month, and the expectation is that we will have playoff basketball. As the Western Conference’s elite teams prepare for the return of the season, we take a look at the most critical question that will define each team’s chances at contending for a championship.

(You can find the biggest questions facing the Eastern Conference’s top teams here)

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