The Bucks and Rockets are two of the hottest teams in the NBA right now. Milwaukee could win 70 games, and a lot of numbers put them in the range of the 90s Chicago Bulls and the 2010s Golden State Warriors. The Rockets went all-in on small ball, unlocked Russell Westbrook, and are taking the league by storm. But, both teams have weaknesses that many believe playoff basketball will highlight. Last night both teams lost precisely in that fashion.
Rockets vs Knicks
The Rockets proved a lot of skeptics wrong and making their super small-ball lineup work. But, there is one stat you know you are sacrificing when opting for small-ball – rebounding. The best way to punish a small-ball lineup is to outrebound them significantly. What we expected the Utah Jazz and Rudy Gobert to do, the New York Knicks did. Last night the Knicks won against the rockets 125 – 123, and they did it through physical play and rebounding. They outrebounded the Rockets 65 – 34!
The Rockets are at the bottom of the league in rebounding since switching to small ball, and that’s no surprise. It’s a calculated sacrifice they are willing to accept for all the benefits it brings. But, the Knicks showed the way to beat them, not just by rebounding but by matching their physicality. Refs allow a bit more physical play in the playoffs, and the teams they will play against are, dare I say, somewhat better than the Knicks. D’Antoni likes to use a very short rotation in the playoffs, but he may have to change that if PJ Tucker and Robert Covington want to survive four series against much bigger players.
Bucks vs Heat
In the playoffs, the team with the best player usually wins. Players give scouting reports their full attention; the number of easy baskets goes down, and a lot of games are closer than in the regular season. Giannis is looking at a second consecutive MVP, so the Bucks are optimistic they will have the best player in every series they play. But did he find an answer to a strategy that worked well against him last year?
It’s important to point out the Bucks are designed with this in mind. Last night, Giannis didn’t find his teammates quickly enough – teammates that are all playing better than last year. The Heat played tremendously and held Giannis to a season-low 13 points. He was 6 – 18 and 0 – 4, so we can say the shot still isn’t there right now. That confidence is more likely to go down then up in big moments in the playoffs.