Cavs’ nightmare seeding scenario, matchup for 2023 NBA Playoffs
Currently leading the Eastern Conference with a 52-20 record, the Bucks present a number of concerning matchups for the Cavs on the court. Matchups that could lead to a short-lived playoff run.
Fortunately for the Cavs, who have a 47-28 record and are currently fourth in the Eastern Conference standings, they wouldn’t have to face the Bucks until the second round of the 2023 NBA Playoffs if they began today.
However, they will still want to play them in a later date, such as the semifinal round. In order to achieve this feat, the most realistic route would be to overtake Philadelphia 76ers for the third seed in the Eastern Conference standings. At 49-23, the Sixers are currently 3.5 games ahead of the Cavs. Laying claim to the second seed in the Eastern Conference standings would lead to the same result. Cleveland is currently 4.0 games behind the second=seeded Boston Celtics.
Conversely, the Cavs could opt to take their foot off the gas ahead of the playoffs in order to slide down to the sixth or seventh seed. Cleveland is currently 6.5 games ahead of the sixth-seeded Miami Heat and 7.0 games ahead of the seventh-seeded Brooklyn Nets.
What a Bucks-Cavs matchup would look like
The Bucks are not only not an ideal matchup for the Cavs on-paper but they’re the worst matchup for Cleveland.
First, let’s get into some numbers. A team that dominates on both ends of the court, the Bucks rank ninth in points per game (116.4) and fifth in opponents points per game (112.1). These numbers aren’t significantly higher than Cleveland’s scoring average (112.2) or their opponents scoring average (106.7). However, they help demonstrate just how worthy an opponent Milwaukee is for those who may not see the Bucks as much more than a team led by Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Not that the presence of Giannis has nothing to do with it.
A 7-foot, 242-pound freak of nature, Antetokounmpo has transformed himself into a dominant scorer. He can’t be stopped with a head of steam; a locomotive force with the vision to create for teammates.
There’s no player that Cleveland has on their roster capable of matching up with Giannis physically. Not even Evan Mobley, whose hip flexibility and athleticism has allowed him to garner high praise for his defensive prowess.
In fact, Antetokounmpo has averaged 33.0 points per game on 55.4 percent shooting from the field and 33.3 percent shooting from 3 in the three games that he’s played against Cleveland this season. He’s averaged 13.7 free-throw attempts per game in these contests, with the Cavs literally unable to stop him.
That’s only made even more possible by big men Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis, both of whom are comfortable stepping out beyond the arc and will make Cavs center Jarrett Allen pay for failing to do so.
Conversely, while nobody can slow down Giannis from Cleveland’s side, Antetokounmpo is more than capable of limiting Mobley. With Khris Middleton back for Milwaukee, the Bucks have yet another prized defender to slow down the second-year forward.
How would the Cavs upset the Bucks?
This problem may not extend to the backcourt.
Jrue Holiday is one of the better perimeter defenders in the league. Nonetheless, the shiftiness of Darius Garland and athleticism of Donovan Mitchell will aid them tremendously.
In what should inspire confidence in their ability to play well against the Bucks despite Holiday’s reputation, Garland and Mitchell averaged a combined 51.1 points per game against the Bucks this season.
Still, in order to defeat the Bucks, Mobley will be the x-factor. He will have to repeatedly get the better of an elite defense and top-rated defenders though. That’s a tall task while Garland and Mitchell attempt to hold off Giannis, Holiday, Middleton, and Lopez.
To that point, it’s also worth noting that while Mitchell only shot 42.2 percent from the field against Milwaukee. It marks his third-lowest field goal percentage against any team he faced multiple times this season.
Just remember, stars drive the NBA Playoffs. That being said, this matchup could all come down to whose stars shine the brightest.