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Clash of titans: Nets, Bucks begin Round 2 of NBA playoffs

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Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Put yourself back on the map. The Brooklyn Nets came home with a chance to wrap up the series against the Boston Celtics. They let the C’s hang around for much of the game, but they turned the jets on in the fourth quarter and cruised to a series clinching victory in front of the home faithful on Tuesday night. Now the level of difficulty has risen a few notches.

The opponent today will be the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks have been off for a nice little bit after they put the broom to the Miami Heat in convincing fashion. It’s a clash of the titans and we’ve got a series with massive stakes. Let’s get it.

Where to follow the game

YES Network has concluded their in game coverage of the season so we’re national from here on out. TNT on television. WFAN on radio. Tip off after 7:30 p.m..

Injuries

Spencer Dinwiddie is out ... and still in California. Alize Johnson missed game 5 with an ankle sprain. He’ll be available. Jeff Green has been out with plantar fasciitis, but was out of his walking boot and off crutches Tuesday. He's out tonight.

White Donte, aka Donte DiVincenzo, is out for the rest of the year with a foot injury.

The game

In the regular season, Brooklyn took game one while the Bucks got games two and three.

The stakes were high enough, but with the defending champions Los Angeles Lakers out the picture, this series takes on even MORE importance. If you talk to any hoops fan, this matchup is expected to be the best of the playoffs and the equivalent of an NBA Finals matchup. We're in for a treat.

It’s so difficult to glean that much from the regular season series as the “Big Three” wasn’t altogether for any of the games and the team’s minutes distribution is a lot different now than what it was then.

Welcome to the James Harden Experience. Harden locked in and punished the Celtics with his scoring and passing as Brooklyn got them outta here. Harden runs the second unit and that could be problematic for the Bucks when their big stars sit. Khris Middleton figures to get this matchup, and for as much as his offense has grown, his defense might be what matters most in this series. He, PJ Tucker, and Pat Connaughton will get this matchup. And for as much as Harden cooked Connaughton, the Bucks have a decent reason to turn to it. Nekias Duncan explains:

He could be an innings eater of sorts against Harden. Harden would win that matchup, but maybe the gamble would be baiting the Nets into a heavier-than-they’d-like dosage of isolation play. That would allow Middleton (fresh off the Duncan Robinson assignment) to track Harris, Holiday to defend Kyrie and Giannis to take the Durant matchup from the jump.

Whoever's most accurate from three will likely win the game. Brooklyn was second in 3- point percentage during the regular season while the Bucks were fifth. In Round one, Brooklyn was first while the Bucks were 14th. One well timed 16-2 run could spell doomsday.

An old friend of ours is going to play a big role in this series. Over at Brew Hoop, Adam Paris wrote this about Brook Lopez:

He’s taking 15% fewer shots from beyond the arc, which has essentially been his role the past two seasons. It’s what made him remarkably relevant in the modern NBA, but as defenses have adapted, it’s also grown stagnant and allowed them to place undersized defenders on Lopez knowing they simply have to get a hand in his face on the perimeter. For all the hullabaloo about his emergence, his still around a 35% 3-point shooter, and Milwaukee’s fallen down the last two postseasons due to iffy shooting from its role players. Post-ASB, Brook has moved more 3-point shots to attempts inside the arc, namely at the rim. He took the highest percentage of his shots at the rim since the 2015-16 season, when he had 40% of shots from there.

It’s not just the “post-up Brook against smaller players” solution we heard about last year though. What seemed like a panacea last year was nothing more than wishful thinking. Instead, they’re working him into pick-and-roll actions, cuts, setting up shot at the dunker spot, you name it. It’s all a far more elegant solution than relying on the old-fashioned post-up, which is still not an ideal shot, even in the hands of someone who has practiced it for three decades.

With Lopez punishing teams on the inside, could this be an opportunity for DeAndre Jordan to return to the rotation? DJ has been on the bench for the past month and change, but he may be someone Steve Nash turns to for size on the inside and against the Greek Freak.

In the meantime, Blake Griffin and Nicolas Claxton will man the middle. Clax was just returning from COVID protocols in the season finale between the teams in the regular season and was out injured during the first meeting. He didn't get many minutes against Boston in round one, but look for him to get some more run, especially with Green out.

Steve Nash hasn’t dismissed that idea that DeAndre Jordan could rejoin the rotation, but he hasn’t played since May 8.

We spent a lot of time last series talking about redemption for Kyrie Irving against his former team. However, this matchup might mean even more on that front. If you think back to the 2019 playoffs, Irving pressed the issue too much in the Conference Semis and had a dreadful series against the Bucks as the Celtics full season meltdown came to a head. Now that Irving is on a team that's better and better for him, the hope is he can get some payback. He'll have his hands full with Jrue Holiday. Holiday was the prized offseason pickup for Milwaukee as he took over for Eric Bledsoe. He and Irving matched up well in the previous two meetings, and for Holiday, his ability to drive to the rim will put some extra pressure on the Nets defense.

Player to watch: Giannis Antetokuonmpo

In one corner stands the reigning two time MVP. Giannis spent this year under the radar (relatively speaking) after signing his contract extension and depriving the transaction obsessed portion of the NBA media easy content. He was still excellent as usual and while he won't win MVP, he was still fantastic. He went to work against Brooklyn in the last two games of the season series as Brooklyn dared him to beat them from deep and he did. It'll be interesting to see if he can keep it up for this series and if the Nets adjust their strategy against him. Can he keep making them pay from three point range? We'll find out.

Oh yeah, can't forget this wild ass sequence

In the other corner stands a two time NBA Finals MVP. Kevin Durant is humming along, whooping ass and taking names as he continues to create nightmares for opposing defenses. With Green out, the Nets have used more KD as Center lineups and it's been working so far. It'll be fascinating to see how Mike Budenholzer and the Bucks adjust for that. Giannis will likely get the Durant assignment and we'll see how he does against a fully locked in Durant. KD presents so many matchup nightmares for defenses and now that he’s good for 40+ minutes every night, opponents don’t have much of a chance to slow him down.

From the Vault

Last time the Nets and Bucks met in the playoffs, this happened

More reading: Brew Hoop