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Charles Barkley has never been known for reliable NBA predictions. But like most prognosticators, Barkley believed the Bucks would be a formidable foe for the star-studded Nets.
The TNT analyst “guaranteed” Milwaukee would topple the Nets in Game 1, then watched his prediction crumble at Barclays Center. Game 2 was much worse for the Bucks — a 39-point blowout defeat — and Barkley said he was “disgusted” by the effort.
“I never wanted to be one of those a—holes on TV who act like he knows everything. I got zero idea who was going to win a championship coming into the playoffs. And I said, it’s going to be one of the craziest playoffs ever,” said Barkley on a conference call while promoting the American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament. “But I thought Milwaukee would put up a better fight — and the series is not over, it’s not over — but it looks like Brooklyn is going to win the East. But man, I was so disgusted in Milwaukee because No. 1, I picked them. But just the way they’re playing. Like I said, I can handle losing. I can’t handle not competing. And what Milwaukee did those first two games, that’s not competing.”
Milwaukee’s no-shows in Brooklyn placed the franchise in a must-win situation at home in Game 3 on Thursday night. No NBA team has ever recovered from a 3-0 deficit. But the Bucks have had enormous difficulty stopping Kevin Durant, and the player most often tasked with guarding the All-Star — P.J. Tucker – acknowledged tactical adjustments won’t be much help.
“He’s gonna score,” Tucker said. “He’s maybe the greatest scorer ever, one of the best. He’s gonna score the ball, nobody’s gonna stop that.”
The Bucks do have the benefit of a real home court advantage in Game 3. For the first time since the pandemic started, they are are hosting 16,500 fans, a big increase from the 9,100 fans in the first round against the Heat.
Around the NBA, the return of fans has prompted intense atmospheres and perhaps better TV ratings (viewership on national TV in the first round was up 46% from last year in the empty Orlando bubble).
“I’m hoping this is a turning point where we start having respect for each other,” Barkley said. “My jackass players don’t load manage and sit out when they’re not hurt and won’t play back-to-back games. And I hope the fans are like, ‘Yo, man, if they give me 110%, whether we win or not, I want to live with that.’ …So I’m hoping this is a time of reflection for fans and for players to realize, we’re much better together than apart.”
Still, there were some incidents involving unruly fans to detract from their re-introduction to NBA arenas. In New York, a fan spat on Trae Young. In Philly, a fan poured popcorn on Russell Westbrook. And in Boston, a fan threw a water bottle at Kyrie Irving.
Barkley theorized that sports gambling — which has been legalized and widespread online — can contribute to elevated negative emotions.
“I don’t want to overreact to (a few) incidents. …All you can do is take their season tickets and ban them for life,” Barkley said. “My biggest concern is one of these times, one of these fans is going run up on one of these big dudes and get hurt badly. And I never want that to happen. I never want to see that happen. But you know one of these drunk dudes will have bet on something and they’re going to run out there to one of these big ol’ dudes and get clocked. And that’s going to be unfortunate.”