Return to the NBA Journey, Week Seventeen: Learn The Matchup

What good is a series without a trilogy? For the third time, The Sports Fan Journal heads on the NBA Journey. For the first two years, we had a level of surety as to where our destination would be. The first year, we were correct. The second, we were correct in location, but not in victor, as the Toronto Raptors won the title last year. Now, the NBA springs anew and for the first time in a while, we're not totally sure where our destination lies. This allows for a current kind of exploration. Let's continue with our next installment after a week of games.

Song of The Week: Killer Instinct 2013 OST - "Maya's Theme"

Matchups matter in competition, especially when deciding to bet on your team. How players and teams stack up against each other varies as the makeup of those players and teams does. Fighting games are no different. Characters are different, thus the matches change. With a character a player chooses, they must understand the ins and outs of what that character can and can't do. That player must also learn how to defeat the other characters. Some matchups are easier to overcome than others, where skills clash and create disadvantageous positions. But no character, even the toughest ones, is impossible to defeat. There are ways to overcome difficulty in competitive situations— whether it be fighting games or potential playoff teams in the NBA.

The Milwaukee Bucks have a commanding lead in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks are on pace to be the third team in NBA history to win 70 games. While that may be the case, it doesn’t guarantee them a trip to the NBA Finals come June. Here are four teams in the East that can take the Eastern Conference crown from the red-hot Bucks.

Toronto Raptors

The reigning Eastern Conference champions won’t be an easy out like many have thought. Despite a hiccup in the NBA All-Star game, Nick Nurse has been as good as it gets when it comes to coaching this season. The Raptors own a 15-game winning streak, which is the best in team history.

What makes this feat so impressive is that it is without Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi ditched "The Six” for his home town Los Angeles Clippers. Despite his absence, there has not been a drop-off. The Raptors have arguably the deepest team in the NBA. They can play in a myriad of ways whether playing traditionally with two bigs and they can play small ball with the best of them. Their versatility and experience coupled with their length and depth can pose many problems for the Bucks. Few teams can match up with Milwaukee’s size, but Toronto can. While Pascal Siakam isn’t on the same level as Giannis, he can come close to matching his output. The Milwaukee Bucks are a team that’s built for the regular season and during the playoffs, their lack of having a true weapon in the half-court would be their Achilles heel against the lengthy Raptors.

Is the growth of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown enough to push tee Celtics past the Bucks in the playoffs? We'll see. (Forbes)

Boston Celtics

The Celtics pose many matchup problems for the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks aren’t known to guard the three-point line as their bigs, the Lopez brothers normally guard the paint instead of chasing down shooters. Bucks head man Mike Budenholzer is a fan of analytics and lives with the percentages and so far it has worked well given that the Bucks have won nearly 100 games since the start of last season. While that approach has been successful, the Celtics do not have an answer for the Celtics perimeter players.

The foursome of Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward can all score 25 points or more on a given night, which gives them the firepower to collectively outduel Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. In their January matchup, Walker torched the Bucks for 40 en route to a 5-point loss, but the silver lining is that Boston was without Jaylen Brown. A healthy Celtics team has too many weapons for the Bucks and if they meet in the postseason, the C’s will be yearning for revenge from last season.

Miami Heat

The Miami Heat isn’t a popular choice to dethrone the Bucks, but when looking at their style of play, they could do the inevitable. In December, Jimmy Butler voiced that the Heat can make it to their first NBA Finals in the Post-Heatles era. Since that claim, the Heat has been playing great basketball. The maturation of Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, and Kendrick Nunn meshed with the proven players such as Goran Dragic, Jae Crowder, and Andre Iguodala are the perfect blend with All-Star Jimmy Butler and head coach Erik Spoelstra.

As a team, they do not have eye-popping stats. They shoot and defend the three-ball well and they are great on the defensive boards, but they do a lot of things that you can’t teach. They are few teams that play with maximum effort on a nightly basis. Their rugged style of play could throw a wrench against Milwaukee. Milwaukee is a team predicated on using spacing and shooting to allow Giannis to dominate the paint. In addition to that, they are also a team that lives and dies by the three-point shot. If the three’s aren’t falling, it would be because Miami has the best three-point defense in the NBA. When the three-pointers aren’t falling, the Bucks have few players that can create offense on their own, which would play into Miami’s favor.

Philadelphia 76ers

Joel Embiid is the reason why the 76ers can overtake the Bucks in the East When focused, Joel Embiid is one of the most unstoppable forces in the NBA. His game is tailor-made for the playoffs and the 76ers can slow the game down and feed their All-Star big man. On Christmas day, Embiid and the 76ers defeated Giannis and the Bucks as he tallied 31 points and 11 rebounds. During that game, the Bucks had no answer for Embiid. Offensively he is a nightmare matchup for Milwaukee and defensively, he is one of few players that can keep Giannis away from the rim. The farther that Antetokounmpo plays away from the hoop better suits the other team and with that said, that plays into the 76ers favor.

Seventeen weeks in, and the Journey continues. Happy NBA, folks.

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