While living in the moment is necessary, it is equally important to plan for what’s ahead. Although the Brooklyn Nets haven’t taken for granted their 4-1 victory over the Boston Celtics in their opening round playoff series, they have placed their attention on the Milwaukee Bucks, their Eastern Conference semifinals opponent, as the next step in their ultimate goal of winning the NBA championship.
The series, beginning on Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, will be far more challenging than the five games against the Celtics. The Nets-Bucks matchup is one of the most anticipated of the playoffs. The Nets are the No. 2 seed and the Bucks the No. 3 seed. Milwaukee, which swept the Miami Heat 4-0 in the first round, has a chip on its shoulder and something to prove after having the best overall record in the league last season (56-17) but getting eliminated by the Heat 4-1 in the conference semifinals.
They were also the top seeded team in the East two seasons ago (60-22) but still failed to make it to Finals. Led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, a five-time All Star and the reigning back-to-back league MVP, the Bucks are strong on both ends of the court and could pose problems for the Nets’ trio of stars Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden. Milwaukee has its own Big Three of Antetokounmpo, forward Chris Middleton and underrated point guard Jrue Holiday.
This past regular season, the Nets and Bucks played each other three times. The Nets won the first meeting in January at home by 125-123, Harden’s second game with Brooklyn after being traded from the Houston Rockets. Milwaukee took the next two, both in their building in May, by 117-114 and 124-118. Durant, Irving and Harden have benefited from Round 1. Besides advancing, it’s given them the opportunity to play together as a unit, building their on-court chemistry. Before the start of the postseason, they had played in less than 10 games together this season.
“It’s great to get one series out of the way,” said Harden on Tuesday night after his first playoff series win with Brooklyn ending the Celtics’ season with a 123-109 victory. Harden had a team-high 34 points and recorded a triple-double by adding 10 rebounds and 10 assists. “We’ll take tomorrow off and we’ll recoup,” he said, “and get ready for a tough Milwaukee team.”
It was also the Nets’ head coach Steve Nash’s initial postseason series win. The first-year, first-
time head coach is a prime benefactor of Harden’s play.
“We’re excited for the next step and the next challenge and James was great tonight obviously,” said Nash. “A triple-double, controlled the game, made shots and made his teammates better. He was terrific.”