The Milwaukee Bucks ascended to an elite playoff contender in the NBA's Eastern Conference during the 2018-19 NBA season. With a record of 60-22, the league's best, they have homecourt advantage for the 2019 playoffs.
Tale of the tape
In Milwaukee, they were dominant with a 33-8 record at home and are led by arguably the league's MVP award winner Giannis Antetokoumpo. The 6'11 small forward has been outstanding this season and already begun to improve upon his one true weakness: 3-point shooting.
The Detroit Pistons had a strange and streaky 2018-19 season. In the end, they narrowly secured the eighth seed in the East, with a 41-41 record for the campaign.
Despite finishing the regular season with a mini two-game winning streak, they were 4-6 in their last ten games and ultimately, this year was about making the playoffs from the Pistons' perspective. Having now achieved that goal, anything more might be a distant dream - especially against a team as good as the Bucks have been this season.
While the Bucks are superior overall, history favours the Pistons. Four previous playoff series between these division rivals have seen the Pistons progress deeper into the playoffs at the Bucks' dismay, although this year should be significantly different for Milwaukee fans.
Milwaukee Bucks starters:
The Milwaukee Bucks are likely to start Eric Bledsoe, Sterling Brown, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez.
The Pistons will start Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin, Wayne Ellington, Reggie Jackson, and Ish Smith.
Expectations, Why and Prediction:
Any hope the Pistons have of making this series competitive lies on the shoulders of Blake Griffin. However, back on Wednesday night, he missed the Pistons’ season finale due to a left knee problem. Griffin averaged 24.5ppg and 5.4apg for the season - leading them in both categories - as a power forward.
Averaging around 18 shots per game, all of this means the ball is often in his hands and they run their offense through the 30-year-old. If he is not 100% fit, it's unlikely he'll play up to his abilities and draw extra defensive attention from the Bucks.
The battle for points in the paint will also be a significant key to success in this series. Bucks average 53 points per game to the Pistons' 44 there, but Andre Drummond is a premier rim protector, averaging 1.7 blocks per game this past season. He also has help off the bench with former Bucks player Thon Maker averaging 1.1 blocks per game too.
Another aspect of the battle in the paint is rebounding. The Pistons have two elite rebounders in Griffin averaging 7.5rpg and Drummond averaging 15.6rpg. The Bucks take 38 plus three-pointers per game and only shoot at 35.3%, so find themselves in the middle of the pack as for long-range shooting. If unable to make these shots, as threes represent more than a third of their total shot attempts per game, there will be limited second-chance points.
The Pistons' ability to cleanup the backboards extremely well cannot be understated. The only uncertainty is regarding Griffin's availability after recent injury struggles.
Bucks' depth to be tested
One thing to watch out for, is just how deep the Bucks are. They will be without guard Malcolm Brogdon and forward Nikola Mirotic (doubtful). Brogdon is a low-maintenance guard who distributes the ball well, plays defense and is able to shoot, making shots when necessary.
Mirotic was added mid-season to help space the floor with his ability to shoot the three. Although with that being said, the Pistons were 25th across the league in points per game, the Bucks might not miss their wounded teammates too much in this series.
Ultimately, these two teams are built differently and their playing consistency is different too. The Bucks are scary good and won 60 games this year, while the Pistons were streaky throughout the season - starting well, struggling, then returning to form late on.
In the end, they held on for the eighth seed after sitting comfortably in sixth for a few weeks. Sunday in Milwaukee, expect the Bucks to start their 2019 playoff run with a 10-point victory over the Pistons.