The Detroit News’ Rod Beard breaks down the NBA first-round playoff series between the Pistons and Bucks, which will tip off at 7 p.m. Sunday in Milwaukee (FSD Plus, 97.1 FM).
In four games against the Pistons, Eric Bledsoe averaged 20.5 points, his second-highest total against any Eastern Conference team this season, and shot 40 percent on 3-pointers. He’s a matchup problem and a challenge for any of the Pistons' guards to defend because of his strength, driving ability and outside shooting. Bledsoe also is an elite perimeter defender, which makes him one of their catalysts on both ends of the floor. With Malcolm Brogdon (plantar fasciitis) and Tony Snell (sprained left ankle) out, the Bucks have been using Sterling Brown and Pat Connaughton more in the backcourt.
The Pistons have a solid duo in Reggie Jackson and Wayne Ellington, who have shown an ability to penetrate and connect from beyond the arc. Ellington is averaging a career-best 12 points since joining the Pistons and shooting 37 percent on 3-pointers, while Jackson is hitting a career-best 37 percent from deep. But more than their offense, they’ll need to be very solid on the defensive end, which isn’t their strength.
Blake Griffin is having the best overall season of his career, but his sore left knee may limit him in the series. Coach Dwane Casey said Griffin is day-to-day and could play in Game 1 but the question is how much he’ll be able to contribute. Bruce Brown is as much a third guard as he is a forward, but he could see as much time guarding Bledsoe as the others. Andre Drummond is the Pistons’ biggest threat — and he’ll have to have a huge series if the Pistons are going to have a chance to steal a game or two. He’ll have to guard Brook Lopez, who has improved his game significantly and added a potent 3-point shot (37 percent) to his repertoire.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists) is one of the favorites to be league MVP and at age 24, he still has more of his game that can improve. He’s a matchup nightmare for most teams and if the Pistons don’t have Griffin, the Bucks will have a decided advantage with Thon Maker likely picking up the defensive assignment. Khris Middleton (18.3 points) is a formidable secondary scoring option and has picked up his game in the past two seasons. The Pistons will have a hard time matching up in the frontcourt.
Griffin missed the regular-season finale and is "day-to-day" for Game 1 on Sunday. The Detroit News
The Pistons’ second group starts and ends with Ish Smith, along with Luke Kennard and Langston Galloway as very capable outside shooters. They can pick up the pace and create advantages, but they’re at their best when they’re in transition and the 3-pointers are falling. Maker gives them some size in the middle, but he sometimes gets overpowered by stronger big men. Glenn Robinson III and Zaza Pachulia are decent pieces but if Casey shortens the rotations, they could see fewer minutes.
The Bucks are missing much of their bench due to injuries — Brogdon, Snell, Nikola Mirotic (fractured thumb) and Pau Gasol (ankle injury) — but they still have some good pieces in George Hill, Ersan Ilyasova and Tim Frazier.
The Bucks have the best record in the NBA — and for the first time in a long time they have lofty expectations for the postseason. How they measure up to those, with all eyes in the NBA world on them, will be a big test. The Pistons say they have nothing to lose, which could put them in a good position to play loose and carefree, but they showed how tight they can get in the final couple games of the regular season.
Unlike the playoff series against the Cavaliers in 2016, there are higher expectations from Casey and the front office, but just getting a game or two would be considered a good improvement for this season.
The big question will be how the Pistons plan to guard Antetokounmpo, especially if Griffin is unable to play or even if he's not at 100 percent.
Prediction: Bucks in 4