Winderman: Matchups vs. Bucks present Heat with ultimate singular challenge

Betting against Antetokounmpo this season is a daunting proposition.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) moves to the basket against the defense of Miami Heat forward Bam Adebayo (13) forward Jae Crowder (99) and guard Kendrick Nunn (25) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Aug. 6 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. (Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports)

A look at the key elements of Miami Heat-Milwaukee Bucks, with the best-of-seven NBA Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series opening Monday at the Wide World of Sports complex.

Edge goes to:

Center: This assuredly will result in a cross-match, if not at the outset than at the moments of truth. Bam Adebayo simply is too valuable against Giannis Antetokounmpo to be limited to defending Brook Lopez 3-pointers or to body Lopez off the boards. Expect the Heat to go small against Lopez, likely with Jae Crowder. Yes, it would be a post mismatch in terms of height. But the more the Bucks go to Lopez, the more it takes the ball out of Antetokounmpo’s hands. Plus it also further clogs the post for Antetokounmpo penetration. Edge: Heat

Power forward: No matter how the Heat set the matchup, you are talking about going against a player already named 2020 NBA Defensive Player of the Year and likely soon to be named 2020 NBA Most Valuable Player in Antetokounmpo. Crowder will be the positional opponent in the starting lineup, but the reality is the Heat will explore any and every defensive option against Antetokounmpo, from Adebayo to Crowder to Derrick Jones Jr. to Andre Iguodala to perhaps even Jimmy Butler. On the offensive end, Crowder’s ability to convert threes at a high percentage will be critical to Heat upset hopes. Edge: Bucks

Small forward: When it comes to head-to-head matchups, this is where a key swing vote could be decisive in the series. The Bucks rely on Khris Middleton’s scoring to a far greater degree than the Heat rely on the scoring of Butler. When Middleton gets it going, he makes arguably one of the most dynamic 1-2 offensive punches in the league with Antetokounmpo. Where Butler can gain an advantage is by filling out the box score and becoming a defensive force. More will be required from Butler than Middleton, but, health allowed, Butler appears to be making the bubble his own. Edge: Even

Shooting guard: So who is going to make more shots at a higher percentage, the Heat’s Duncan Robinson or the Bucks’ Wesley Matthews? The hot hand here will go a long way toward swinging the plus-minus when the starters are on the floor. The Heat will need the best of Robinson to counter the Bucks’ relative indifference toward defending the arc. Far less is asked from the Bucks of Matthews. Edge: Even


Point guard: Goran Dragic was the most consistent Heat player in the first round and arguably the Heat’s best player. And now here is, going against a player he competed against for minutes with the Phoenix Suns. The difference between this and the Pacers series is the wall that Dragic will find at the rim from the Bucks defense. Like so many around Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe is only asked to be a contributor, but is coming off a solid season. Edge: Heat

Bench: Both teams get quality contributions in reserve. The Heat’s Tyler Herro was electric in the first round against the Pacers, with Iguodala thriving as a closer. Kelly Olynyk and even Kendrick Nunn also could be key off the bench for the Heat with their abilities to stretch the floor, as could Jones with his defense. But there stand the Bucks, with bench talent running equally as deep, including George Hill, Donte DiVincenzo, Marvin Williams, Kyle Korver, Pat Connaughton and noted Heat killer Ersan Ilyasova. Edge: Even

Coach: Both the Heat’s Erik Spoelstra and Bucks’ Mike Budenholzer are considered among the best at their craft. Unlike during the first round, with the Pacers’ since-deposed Nate McMillan, don’t expect talk in this series of anyone being outcoached. What will be interesting will be how patient Budenholzer remains in ceding 3-point attempts. But that piece of strategy will come down to the Heat’s shooters more than Spoelstra. Edge: Heat

Intangibles: Glancing at the “Edge” calls above, it might come off as the Heat entering as some type of favorite against the team with the NBA’s best regular-season record. They do not. That is the Antetokounmpo advantage, a player who singularly can swing any series as the matchup’s best scorer, rebounder, playmaker and defender. The Heat need to get a lot from a lot of contributors. The Bucks merely need the best of Giannis. Edge: Bucks

Prediction: Betting against Antetokounmpo this season is a daunting proposition. But the Bucks also hardly have come off as dominant in the bubble. Make enough 3-pointers and the Heat can keep themselves competitive in any game, as well as in the series. Now the question is whether momentum has been lost for Spoelstra’s team with its weeklong layoff. Bucks in seven

(c) 2020 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at


Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

What To Read Next
Get Local