The Milwaukee Bucks lost 12 of their final 20 games, and with a first round date with the NBA's best team, the Miami Heat, on the line there's little optimism Jim Boylan's squad will make it much of a series. Miami won the regular season series 3-1, and though Milwaukee presents a few matchup issues against the Heat, there's no doubt this is the most lopsided first round playoff series in either conference.
CBS Sports' Zach Harper is quite right that the Bucks have presented trouble for the Heat in the last few seasons, regardless of the margin of victory. Milwaukee's wily tendencies make them seemingly oblivious to how outmanned they might be. At the heart of the Bucks' advantages is center Larry Sanders, who has showed well this year against Miami. Harper believes it could very well come down to how seriously the Heat take a series that is just supposed to go their way. But as close as it might be, Harper has the Heat winning in five.
At USA Today, Adi Joseph believes Miami will pull out the brooms for a first-round sweep. Though Milwaukee might have a shot at pushing the tempo and turning the Heat over, it's hard to see LeBron James and company falling into that trap. If Chris Bosh counters Larry Sanders well enough and Mario Chalmers gets defensive against Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings, it's Miami's series to lose.
And getting local in Wisconsin or in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, nobody is really biting on the soured bait of the Bucks having a realistic chance to pull off the upsets of all upsets. Three of five Sun Sentinel writers are calling it a sweep while two believe Milwaukee will do just enough to make it a five-game series win for Miami.
And at Bucks blog, Brew Hoop,Steve von Horn has a hard time finding the Heat's weakness.
Q&A with Steven von Horn of Brew Hoop
What must Milwaukee do to have a chance at pulling the upset against Miami?
Sew four-leaf clovers into their jerseys, wear headbands made from rabbit foot talismans and sprinkle flakes from the finest golden horseshoes known to man into their sneakers. That might be enough luck to do it. The Bucks' plan has been a bit silly from the beginning. Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis are inefficient chuckers, but sometimes their systematically poor decisions give way to non-sensicalhot streaks of success. It never lasts, but it never should. Maybe they will get hot (read: lucky) and take some pressure off more efficient role players like Ersan Ilyasova, J.J. Redick and Mike Dunleavy. Also, some renewed focus and improved effort along the perimeter of the defense would go a long way toward helping super-defender Larry Sanders shine in this series. Is this all too much to ask? ...on second thought, don't answer that.
Who is the X-factor in this series for either team?
If an 'X-factor' is a player who could alter the course of the series, the Bucks don't have one. This is Miami's series to win, and thus it's Miami's series to lose. Rather than say LeBron James is the key to everything in the 2013 Playoffs (he is), I will offer up a secondary storyline that could bring some excitement to the series. A Y-factor, if you will. That man is John Henson. Most Bucks fans are resigned to the team's fate in the first round, but with an eye on the future Bucks faithful are hoping Henson taps into his 17-point, 18-rebound performance from Nov. 21 in a game against the Heat. He has earned a look from Jim Boylan in the playoffs thanks to a strong finish to the regular season, and any spark the 2012 first-round pick can provide off the bench will invigorate an otherwise discouraged fanbase.
What's your final prediction?
Heat in 4.
Q&A with Surya Fernandez of Hot Hot Hoops
What's the key for Miami to handle Milwaukee as the seedings say it should?
Basically, having the Big 3 play together consistently for the first time since their huge winning streak ended. With the Heat counting on all their players, they will overwhelm the Bucks in pure talent and game execution on both ends of the floor. The Bucks have hot shooters that can score in bunches but they will not be able to keep up with the Heat by the second half of any game in this series.
What one thing about the Bucks should the Heat be most worried about?
Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis are quick and fully capable of consistently scoring against any team and the Heat have had trouble in the past dealing with speedy guards that can penetrate their defense. Aside from Joel Anthony and Chris Andersen, the Heat don't have much in the form of shot-blockers either but Jennings and Ellis may prefer to keep shooting from the outside anyway. Yes, the two can certainly get hot at any time in the series but the Heat's coaching staff have shown they can quickly make adjustments during a game and besides, they always have two guys by the name of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James they can assign to guard an opposing player causing damage.
What's your final prediction for the series?
With the Heat closing the season winning 37 of their final 39 games, I honestly don't think the Bucks have what it takes to beat a rested, healthy Heat team even once. They might lose a game or two in the next round but the Heat's first round test will end in a sweep.