The Milwaukee Bucks were no more than 10 minutes removed from winning their first-round series, and coach Mike Budenholzer had already shifted his thinking to what awaits against the Miami Heat.
Such is life for coaches in the NBA.
Budenholzer's message was clear: “We’re going to have to be a lot better against a really good Miami team,” he said.
Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal matchup between the top-seeded Bucks and fifth-seeded Heat is Monday night in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. The Bucks are trying to return to the East finals for the second straight season. Miami is trying to get there for the first time since 2014.
Milwaukee needed five games to dispatch Orlando in a series that ended Saturday; the Heat swept Indiana in the first round. Miami has had a week off to get ready, part of that time including the stoppage of the playoffs — which started when the Bucks wouldn’t take the floor on Wednesday in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
“We’re not reinventing the whole wheel on how we prepare for a game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You just get into your routine. Each opponent is going to present really different challenges. This is a really good team, obviously an MVP player on their team ... you’re going to have to do things well.”
That MVP is likely about to become a two-time MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo, the front-runner for this year’s award, leads the Bucks in just about every imaginable way, and Milwaukee won each of the last four games of its series against Orlando by at least 14 points.
Antetokounmpo is also this year’s Defensive Player of the Year; he’ll likely see plenty of Miami’s Bam Adebayo, a Most Improved Player finalist who also got some DPOY first-place votes.