ESPN analysts size up Miami Heat-Milwaukee Bucks playoff series, offer predictions

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ESPN, earlier this year, dumped the analyst who predicted the Heat would miss the playoffs, for reasons obviously unrelated.

But two ESPN analysts who consistently give the Heat its due — Jalen Rose and Kendrick Perkins — believe Miami’s playoff journey will be a short one because of the quality of Miami’s first-round opponent.

Rose and Perkins on Monday both explained why they believe Milwaukee will oust Miami, even though both have lavishly praised the Heat in recent days.

“This is a better Bucks team and they got humbled last year,” Rose said on an ESPN conference call previewing the network’s NBA playoff coverage. “The reason Pat Riley took a home run swing at Victor Oladipo is because he understood that they needed more.

“This team had a short offseason like the Lakers did, dealt with some COVID issues, dealt with some injuries. I see [Jimmy] Butler and Bam [Adebayo] getting their games together, and [Tyler] Herro and Duncan [Robinson] making shots. We’ll see what we get from Goran Dragic.

“I just feel like this Bucks team is better and more equipped to be more prepared to deal with adversity. And Giannis [Antetokounmpo] has improved. He improved his shot. He improved not settling and, they just don’t have him only on the top of the floor operating. They put him on the wing. They put his back to the basket. He’s a better player.

“[Bucks guard Jrue] Holiday is a better three-point shooter than [former Bucks guard Eric] Bledsoe and a better defender. [Khris] Middleton is always going to be 20 points solid. I am anticipating a physical series. Miami will punk you if you’re not prepared. This Bucks team is more equipped, and if I’m going to predict who is going to win, I would actually take Milwaukee.”

Perkins, who predicted a deep Heat playoff run in last year’s postseason, last week hopped aboard the Heat’s bandwagon, calling them his sleeper.

“Last year it got them to the NBA Finals, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they made it back!” Perkins said last week. “They are really scary. They are playing exceptional basketball. Tyler Herro is being the Tyler Herro from the bubble.

“Duncan Robinson is shooting lights out. Trevor Ariza is finally finding his stride and his niche in the offense. We all know what Bam and Jimmy are going to bring to the table. But the two unsung heroes that don’t get enough credit are Kendrick Nunn and Goran Dragic, and then you have a coach in Erik Spoelstra who I strongly believe is the best coach in today’s game when you talk about X’s and O’s and mixing it up on the defensive end. The Miami Heat are scary.”

But Perkins made those comments when it appeared the Heat would play the Hawks or Knicks in the first round.

On that ESPN conference call Monday, Perkins wasn’t as optimistic because Milwaukee is Miami’s first-round obstacle.

“You know it’s hard for me to go against those goons from Dade County; I feel like they are putting on their ski masks at the right time but against the wrong team,” he said.

“When you look at the Bucks, they got better. When you look at the Heat, yeah they added Trevor Ariza but to me, losing Jae Crowder was huge. He was a guy that kind of took Giannis a little bit out of the series... The way he got into Giannis and they were able to throw multiple bodies at him. [With] his physical strength, I thought Crowder was a huge loss.

“When you look at the Bucks, the one thing I noticed about Giannis is his playmaking ability. It keeps getting better every year. This year it’s really, really good. He’s passing the ball with a real purpose. He’s seeing the floor a whole lot better. Brook Lopez, the way he anchors that defense, he doesn’t get enough credit the way he protects the basket. Holiday is one of best two-way players in the game today. Khris Middleton is a walking bucket.

“[Bucks forward Bobby] Portis has been tremendous and adding PJ Tucker [has been big]. He brings that toughness, that tenacity. He gives them a big-brother feeling where no team is going to punk them. He gives them security. He’s not going to put up monster stats but does all the little things that affect winning, taking charges, getting deflections. Now they can go small and put Giannis at the five and stretch Tucker to the corner. It’s pick your poison.

“The Bucks have revenge on their mind. They have one of the deepest teams in the NBA, and I think they will win this series in six.”

ESPN analyst Matt Barnes, the former NBA wing, said: “For some of the younger players on that Heat team, there was a Finals hangover. First time experiencing all kinds of fame, the summer was different, I think it took a little while for that to wear off on the younger players.

“Jimmy was in and out with injuries, COVID. We always said this team goes as Jimmy goes. Trevor Ariza was a huge pickup; he’s been playing great basketball. Their two guards go unsung. They show you what happens when you got hot at the right time.

“This team is getting its footing at the right time and playing their best basketball. Bam is in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year, and if he doesn’t get in that conversation, he is definitely going to win some before his career is over. This team has all the pieces. And if you get hot at the right time, you can make a run. Look out for the Heat.”

Meanwhile, the analyst who often dissed the Heat — former Celtics star Paul Pierce — continues to look for his next media gig after ESPN dismissed him in April when he inexplicably posted a video of himself cavorting with a stripper on social media.

THIS AND THAT

The Heat closed the regular season scoring at least 100 points in 18 consecutive games, the longest such streak in franchise history.

No team in Heat history shot free throws better than this one. Miami closed at 79 percent from the line, equaling the 1991-92 team for the best in franchise history.

And Butler’s 86.3 free-throw percentage was third best by a Heat player in a single season in franchise history, trailing Ray Allen (88.6) and Glen Rice (88.0).

Robinson closed the season with 147 games without missing one, 27 games short of Rice’s franchise record, achieved in 1992 through 1994.

The Heat has made the playoffs 10 times in 13 seasons under Erik Spoelstra. Only two teams — Boston and San Antonio (11 each) — have more playoff appearances during that time.

Adebayo and Antetkounmpo were the NBA’s only players to finish with at least 300 assists and 60 blocks. Adebayo had 346 and 66, respectively.

This was impressive from a two-way player or any player: Max Strus shot 35 of 39 on two-pointers this season (89.7 percent). On three-pointers, he closed at 33.8 percent (50 for 148).

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