Who has the edge: Miami Heat vs. Milwaukee Bucks
CENTER: The argument could be made that the Heat don't have a center, while the Bucks might have too many of them. But in Erik Spoelstra's “position-less” system, it is Chris Bosh's uniqueness that makes him such a wild card, in this case with his ability to draw Bucks shot-blocker Larry Sanders or volume rebounder Ersan Ilyasova out of the paint. While Bucks coach Jim Boylan has plenty of depth at the position, with Samuel Dalembert and Joel Przybilla, he rarely utilizes his additional height. The Bucks almost certainly will outrebound the Heat at center, but the Heat have shown the ability to consistently play through such deficits. Edge: Heat
POWER FORWARD: This is the wild card for the Heat, with Erik Spoelstra turning to Shane Battier as his starting power forward over the course of last season's playoffs, and some seeing him going in that direction again. To this point, Udonis Haslem has handled the role, with quality rebound-per-minute numbers, albeit in measured minutes. The Bucks counter with the energy of Ersan Ilyasova, who could be the wild card in the series with his penchant to robo-rebound. That's where Battier could enter the equation, with his ability, like Bosh, to draw Bucks' big men to the perimeter. Edge: Even
SMALL FORWARD: LeBron James is coming off arguably the best regular season of his 10-year career, and should be presented with the 2012-13 NBA Most Valuable Player award sometime during the course of this postseason. The Bucks had been going with Marquis Daniels at small forward, but will now move to Luc Mbah a Moute, who is known for his perimeter defense. The question is whether the Bucks can get any consistent offense out of their frontline, something the Heat are assured of with both James and Bosh, and potentially Battier, as well. Edge: Heat
SHOOTING GUARD: There was a time, just over a month ago, when Milwaukee's Monta Ellis was trying to sell the notion that he was every bit the player as Dwyane Wade, with the only thing separating the two being Wade's two Heat championship rings. Uh, yeah, maybe not. Ellis was dreadful in the four-game season series, shooting .302 from the field in the four matchups, averaging just 9.5 points, with 14 total turnovers in the four games. Wade? He shot .509 in his three appearances in the season series, averaging 24 points in those games. The Bucks will have to get Ellis' productivity to rise to the level of his ego to make the series competitive. Edge: Heat
POINT GUARD: Brandon Jennings has essentially been the extent of the Bucks' offense in the season series. He averaged 23.8 points in the four games, with no other Milwaukee player averaging more than 13.5. Keeping him off the 3-point line would be a place to start, but there also is the concern of his ability to get into the paint and create. Mario Chalmers was not overwhelming in his four appearances against the Bucks, shooting .365 and averaging 6.5 points. But what figures to matter most in this matchup is defense. Otherwise, it is possible James might have to take the challenge. Edge: Bucks
BENCH: There largely is redundancy in the Bucks' depth, with a variety of big men capable of coming off the bench and helping on the boards, from Dalembert to John Henson to Gustavo Ayon. Otherwise, it basically comes down to whether J.J. Redick or Mike Dunleavy are hitting 3-pointers. The Heat, by contrast, have the four-man second unit of Ray Allen, Battier, Chris Andersen and Norris Cole that has proven to be a game-changer. While rotations tend to tighten in the playoffs, the Heat have plenty of versatility at their disposal. Edge: Heat
COACHING: Put it this way, Jim Boylan is coaching the Bucks simply because Scott Skiles essentially walked out at midseason, seeing no future for himself with the team, and possibly no future for the team as presently constructed. Spoelstra, by contrast, emerged as a candidate for Coach of the Year, quieting any discussion about another go-round on the bench for Pat Riley. Like his Big Three on the court, Spoelstra inspired confidence on the bench. Edge: Heat
INTANGIBLES: The Heat have been dominant on their homecourt; the Bucks likely wouldn't have sold out their home playoff games if it wasn't for the Heat being the opponent. The Bucks are already discussing impending free-agency issues; the Heat core is taking the long view. The Heat, even while resting players, finished strong. The Bucks essentially limped to the finish, awful on the road over the final weeks of the season. About the only chance for the Bucks is to get Jennings, Ellis, Redick and Dunleavy hot from the 3-point line on the same night. Edge: Heat
PREDICTION: The only way this becomes a series is if Milwaukee takes one of the first two games at AmericanAirlines Arena. Otherwise, it could be a case of why-bother when it comes to returning to South Florida for a Game 5. The lack of quality at the bottom of the Eastern Conference allowed the Bucks to clinch a playoff spot early, but that left a team playing in cruise control when it hardly earned that privilege. But, again, there are enough 3-point shooters to possibly steal a game. One game. Max. Pick: Heat in five
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