The Milwaukee Bucks haven't exactly looked like the Milwaukee Bucks at Disney. They're 3-5 after their dominant 53-12 start to the season, they lost in the biggest regular-season upset in 27 years against the Brooklyn Nets, and Giannis Antetokounmpo grew so frustrated at one point that he headbutted Moe Wagner and got himself suspended for Milwaukee's final seeding game. The Bucks aren't quite right yet.
But, boy, are the Orlando Magic a sight for sore eyes. The Magic also went 3-5 during their seeding games, but unlike the Bucks, they don't have a stellar pre-pandemic track record to fall back on. Milwaukee isn't ready to play against true contenders quite yet, but the Magic should serve as a sufficient punching bag to prepare them for the later stages of the postseason. Pretending otherwise would be disingenuous, but there's still plenty to watch out for in this series. Here's everything you need to know about Milwaukee's first-round matchup against Orlando.
(1) Bucks vs. (8) Magic schedule
All times Eastern
- Game 1: Tuesday, Aug. 18, 1:30 p.m. | TNT
- Game 2: Thursday, Aug. 20, 6 p.m. | ESPN
- Game 3: Saturday, Aug. 22, 1 p.m. | TNT
- Game 4: Monday, Aug. 24, 1:30 p.m. | NBA TV
- Game 5: Wednesday, Aug. 26, TBD | TBD
- Game 6: Friday, Aug. 28, TBD | TBD
- Game 7: Sunday, Aug. 30, TBD | TBD
1. Mismatch of the century?
The Bucks won 23 more games than the Magic this season. The last series with such a large gap? The 67-win 2016-17 Warriors vs. the 41-win 2016-17 Portland Trail Blazers. Raw win totals don't really do this series justice, though. After all, this was one of the shortest seasons in NBA history due to the coronavirus, and the Bucks were resting players throughout their seeding game slate in Orlando. Milwaukee's winning percentage prior to entering the bubble was .815, the equivalent of a 67-win team. Orlando's was .461, the equivalent of a 38-win team. Gaps like that put Milwaukee in rarified air. The 2015-16 Warriors, the 1995-96 Bulls and the 1985-86 Celtics all accomplished the feat.
And even that might not do justice to how lopsided this series is on paper. Prior to the pandemic, the Bucks outscored opponents by 10.2 points per 100 possessions. The Magic were outscored by 1.3 points per 100 possessions. To put that in perspective, the gap between these two teams is bigger than the gap between the Houston Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers. They played each other in the regular season four times, and the Bucks won them all by a combined 68 points. Oh, and Orlando is playing this series without arguably its best player, Jonathan Isaac. Buckle your seatbelts, ladies and gentlemen, because there is a chance this thing gets ugly really quickly.
2. The matchup does Orlando no favors
Orlando being significantly worse than Milwaukee isn't exactly surprising. Teams that finish No. 8 in a conference tend to be worse than teams that finish No. 1. But its problems don't just end with raw talent. This is also an absolutely terrible matchup for the Magic.
Orlando almost never takes 3-pointers. They're 25th in the NBA in 3-point rate and 26th in 3-point percentage. Milwaukee allows the third-highest opponent 3-point rate in basketball. The Bucks beg teams to shoot the sort of above-the-break 3-pointers that the Magic loathe. It's the trade-off for their historic rim protection. That rim protection has humiliated Orlando's athletes when these teams have met during the season. Markelle Fultz shot 27.1 percent from the field against the Bucks. Aaron Gordon was even worse at 23.3 percent. The only Magic player to find much of any success was Evan Fournier, who attempted eight 3-pointers per game against the Bucks and made half of them.
If fully healthy, the Magic might be able to dish out as much rim protection as they would have faced. Isaac is among the very best rim protectors in basketball and plays a defensive role somewhat similar to Giannis Antetokounmpo. But Isaac is out, and Orlando's defense is 4.1 points worse per 100 possessions without him, and more distressingly, it went from allowing opponents to shoot only 62.8 percent in the restricted area before his January injury to 65.7 percent afterward. Interior defense is rather important against Giannis. Right now, Orlando doesn't have it. This isn't one of those 1-8 matchups where the underdog has some key matchup to exploit. Virtually everything is working against the Magic here.
3. So why does this series matter? Because of what comes after
Yes, this series is going to end quickly. The Bucks will either sweep the Magic or let them steal a game and end it in five. But the Bucks have to keep playing afterward, and with either Miami or Indiana looming in the second round, things are going to get a good deal harder. This is, essentially, a warmup round. That doesn't mean much after a typical 82-game season. It means everything to these Bucks.
No Buck has played more than 200 total minutes at Disney. By comparison, six Trail Blazers have. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have played over 300. The Bucks rested players liberally during the seeding games, and that wasn't necessarily a bad idea. Getting into the playoffs healthy matters. But so does rhythm, and the Bucks don't have it now. Not only did their players hardly play, but their best players hardly played together. No Bucks lineup has played even 25 minutes together in Orlando. Its starting five with Eric Bledsoe has played only 16. The Magic may forgive a few mistakes, but the Heat certainly won't.
Mike Budenholzer has four or five games to get his team right. That's it. After that, the Bucks are playing for keeps. It's a bit unusual to consider playoff games having the same purpose as exhibition matchups, but that's where the Bucks are. If they want to tinker with lineups, improve anyone's conditioning or do anything else to prepare for the real playoffs, the time is now.