Milwaukee Bucks: Brook Lopez will be X-factor vs Nets

May 4, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez (11) defends Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) during the third quarter at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
May 4, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez (11) defends Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) during the third quarter at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

The Milwaukee Bucks are set to meet the second-seeded Brooklyn Nets in the second round of the NBA Playoffs in what’s bound to be an epic showdown highlighted by each team’s trio of stars, but Brook Lopez should emerge as the X-factor for the Bucks in this highly anticipated series.

As the Bucks look to carry the momentum from their dominant first-round sweep against the Miami Heat over to the next round, they’ll obviously be faced with a much more difficult task against this star-studded Nets squad. Game 1 between these two powerhouses will begin Saturday evening at 7:30 PM ET.

A top storyline heading into this series will be Brooklyn’s superstar trio of Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving going head-to-head against Milwaukee’s elite trio of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday. Although, the role players in this matchup could prove to be the difference makers that ultimately determine who comes out on top.

As the Milwaukee Bucks set to face the Brooklyn Nets in a heavyweight second-round matchup, Brook Lopez will be the X-factor throughout the series.

For the Bucks, seven-foot center Brook Lopez will be the key to silencing the Nets. Lopez has been a major component of Milwaukee’s schemes ever since joining the team in 2018 and head coach Mike Budenholzer has maximized his role within the established system.

The 33-year-old big man has reshaped his career in Milwaukee as he’s become more accustomed to the modern NBA. Lopez thrives with his ability to affect shots in the interior on the defensive end while being able to spread the floor and score with craft offensively, and that was thoroughly showcased during the recent steamroll of Miami.

Lopez averaged 15.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks on playoff career-highs in field goal percentage (58.5 percent) and two-point shots (69.7 percent) throughout the first-round demolition. Just his presence made an essential impact. Needless to say, Brook played a crucial role in Budenholzer’s game plan of controlling the paint whether it was scoring, rebounding, or affecting shots with his length, height, strength, positioning, composure, IQ, and awareness.

The Bucks will need Lopez to efficiently execute in a similar way on both ends of the floor when they battle Brooklyn. Budenholzer will likely try to implement similar tactics in regard to dominating the paint or within the interior, so he’ll have another very important role throughout this series.

Defensively will be where Lopez’s assignment will be most important. Durant, Harden, and Irving are all some of the best isolation scorers in the league. They can handle the ball, shoot the lights out from all angles on the court, and are lethal coming off screens. Defending those screens should become the most difficult task for the Bucks on the defensive end.

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Milwaukee will have a mix of Holiday, Middleton, Antetokounmpo, P.J. Tucker and Pat Connaughton all taking turns when it comes to guarding Brooklyn’s superstars. When screens are initiated for either of them, the Bucks should go above the screens to try and force the Nets’ offensive juggernauts off the perimeter and into the interior. That’s where the one and only giant tree named Brook Lopez comes into play.

Even though Lopez likely won’t be defending any one of Durant, Harden, or Irving one-on-one with the Bucks likely opting to switch more with just the mix of players mentioned above, he’ll become an integral part of slowing them down once his teammates lead them right to him. Similar to how Lopez consistently bothered the Heat with his presence near the rim, he’ll be challenged with doing the same thing, but this time it’ll be against a team that has produced some of the best offensive numbers that the NBA has ever seen.

Lopez will be waiting to contest shots in the paint, assuming Bud decides to stay in the traditional drop coverage scheme and if the Nets play either Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, or Nicolas Claxton at the five. Griffin started at center for Brooklyn during their 4-1 first-round series win over the Boston Celtics.

Brook Lopez is the key to the defense of the Milwaukee Bucks

Expect Lopez to drop off his man in favor of providing help-defense once the Nets come off those screens since Griffin, Jordan, and Claxton are all non-threats from the perimeter. If the Nets utilize lineups with a guy like Durant or even Bruce Brown at the five, Lopez might not be playable since he’d likely be put in a blender and become a liability defensively. There are positives and negatives that come with each personnel decision, so it’ll be interesting to see which lineups, matchups, tactics, and schemes each team goes with throughout the series.

Offensively, Lopez must take advantage of his size and ignite “Brooklyn Brook” in the paint again. When he played for the Nets from 2008 to 2017, Brook was an absolute monster near the basket. Instead of shooting 3’s on a consistent basis and spreading the floor as he does well for the Bucks now, Lopez was solely known for being a beast in the paint.

As he’s done much more of scoring with craft in the paint, owning the boards, and having fun with the new “dunker spot” that the Bucks have implemented this season, Lopez should look to continue his dominant performances in the paint not just defensively, but offensively as well. The Stanford product did just that against Miami and could do it all over again in the second round, especially with the lack of size that the Nets could have in certain scenarios.

On both ends of the floor, Brook Lopez will become a key contributor in his established role that untangles so many undervalued aspects of this Milwaukee Bucks team. Throughout this upcoming series against the Brooklyn Nets, Lopez will be the X-factor as the Bucks seek to punch their ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals and inch closer to the ultimate goal.

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