The Milwaukee Bucks waited 51 years, but after their 4-2 victory over the Phoenix Suns, the team finally hoisted the Larry O’Brien trophy.
2021 NBA CHAMPIONS!! pic.twitter.com/3CEmafjIrG
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) July 21, 2021
Entering the 2020-2021 season, this iteration of the Bucks faced scrutiny in light of previous playoff failings and questionable offseason moves.
But Milwaukee managed a 46-26 record and pushed their way through adversity en route to the NBA championship.
Jrue Holiday proved to be the difference-maker Milwaukee’s front office envisioned.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, officially ascended up to the league’s top tier.
However, a new question faces the defending champions as they prepare for the 2021-2022 season.
Are they good enough to beat the Brooklyn Nets?
Oddsmakers in Las Vegas don’t seem to think so, considering the Bucks checked in with just the third-best championship odds, trailing both Brooklyn and the Los Angeles Lakers.
Bucks Built To Battle Brooklyn
It’s hard to imagine how different the NBA’s postseason would have been had Kevin Durant worn a slightly smaller shoe size.
With a chance to win the deciding Game 7 in their Eastern Conference semifinals matchup last season, Durant’s long jumper registered as a game-tying two pointer, instead of a game-winning three pointer, because the tip of his toe touched the line.
Kevin Durant was one shoe size away from winning the series. pic.twitter.com/k0FEv8c33f
— Adrian ᴿᴹ (@iEnvyAdrian) June 20, 2021
Brooklyn feels confident entering next season, in part, because they were literally an inch from advancing, despite injuries.
The battered Nets pushed the eventual champions to the brink before bowing out in overtime.
When the Nets Big-3 were on the floor together, they were seemingly unstoppable.
Durant, Harden, and Irving posted an unbelievable 139.4 points per 100 possessions during last season’s postseason run.
With that trio together, it’s hard to envision another team topping them in a seven-game series.
But the Bucks are built to do so.
Antetokounmpo, Holiday, and Khris Middleton are all top-end defenders.
Sure, the loss of P.J. Tucker will hurt this defensive core.
But at full strength, the Bucks sport the necessary depth to deal with Brooklyn’s offense.
Brooklyn’s Health A Major Question
While the Bucks might not be favored entering the season, Brooklyn’s health remains as the swing factor in this matchup.
When fully healthy, the Nets offense seems unstoppable.
But the reality is, Brooklyn boasted a “healthy” lineup in just eight regular season games last season.
And as the postseason progressed, the Nets took losses on the heels of Harden’s hamstring issues and Irving’s ankle.
Couple this question with the progression of Milwaukee’s top stars, and this matchup should be another classic next season.
Antetokounmpo dominated the NBA Finals last season, posting averages of 35.2 points, 13.2 rebounds, and five assists over the six games.
There’s no answer in Brooklyn for his talents.
Holiday and Middleton supplement Antetokounmpo’s production, and the return of DiVincenzo deepens this rotation as well.
Fans won’t have to wait long to see these two teams square off, considering the NBA slated the Nets to visit Milwaukee on the opening night of the league’s 75th Anniversary season.