In a potential playoff matchup, this season’s winningest team, the Milwaukee Bucks will host the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday, March 17 at 3:30 PM for a marquee matchup on ABC.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the favorite to win this year’s MVP award. Photo by: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
The teams met early in the season on October 24 with the Bucks taking care of the Sixers, 123-108. Since then, both have found success, currently laying claim to homecourt advantage for the playoffs and are likely to stay in position.
The Bucks (51-17) are the only team with at least 50 wins this season, and are led by MVP-favorite, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak is averaging career-highs with 27 points, 12.6 rebounds and 5.9 assists, while getting over a block and a steal a game. He also has a 58-percent field goal percentage — another career-high — which goes to show his efficiency in his effectiveness.
New Bucks head coach, Mike Budenholzer has put a system in place to unlock Antetokounmpo, but he’s also utilizing the pieces around his superstar to the fullest: Khris Middleton became a first-time All-Star in a contract year, Brook Lopez is launching threes like a madman, and Eric Bledsoe earned himself a $70 million contract extension. What’s more, Milwaukee picked up Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol via trade and buyout respectively.
The pieces are all falling into place for Milwaukee, and all signs point to a trip to the NBA Finals this year. With the Golden State Warriors showing some weakness, can this juggernaut of a team stop the Warriors from achieving a three-peat?
To get to the Finals, the Bucks may have to win a seven-game series against the gritty team from Philly.
Tobias Harris is one of the Sixers’ x-factors against the Bucks. Photo by: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
The Sixers (43-25) are in 4th place in the Eastern Conference, and have a much different roster than the one they had against Milwaukee earlier this season. Since October, the Sixers have gotten rid of three of their starters — Markelle Fultz, Robert Covington and Dario Saric — along with bench pieces, Landry Shamet and Mike Muscala.
In Sunday’s rematch against the Bucks, the Sixers will now have Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, Mike Scott, James Ennis, Boban Marjanovic and Jonathan Simmons. With a completely different team, Philadelphia shouldn’t be too hung up on October’s loss.
What they should be concerned about is slowing Giannis down and closing out on Milwaukee’s shooters. The former task won’t be a walk in the park, but the latter can be done through discipline and hustle. This is the Sixers’ opportunity to set the tone for the playoffs, and a win against Milwaukee would be a huge feather in their cap with less than a month left in the season.
Milwaukee is the only team in the league with 50 wins for simple reasons: they play defense, their offense is hard to stop, and they have Giannis Antetokounmpo. However, they aren’t an unbeatable force.
If anyone can give the Bucks a run, it’s the Sixers. Tobias Harris has been excellent for them, putting up about 20 points per game since joining the team before the trade deadline. If Jimmy Butler can also put his mark on this game, the Sixers will have confirmation that they made the right decisions, picking Harris and Butler up mid-season.
It’ll be interesting to see how Joel Embiid’s matchup with Brook Lopez will affect Philly’s defense. Since Lopez can stay behind the arc and let it fly, Embiid would be taken away from the rim and forced to defend out in the perimeter. If Brett Brown decides to have someone else guard Lopez, there could be a size mismatch to exploit for both teams.
With that said, the Bucks have the advantage as long as Giannis is on the floor and with 36.7 minutes per game, he’s out there a whole lot. The Bucks can use this game to get closer to 60 wins, a feat their franchise hasn’t accomplished since the 1980-81 season. Giannis should lead the Bucks to victory in a back-and-forth contest against the Sixers on Sunday afternoon.
Prediction: Milwaukee Bucks defeat Philadelphia 76ers