The Philadelphia 76ers meet the Milwaukee Bucks in a showdown on Christmas Day. The NBA determines the marquee matchups in the summer, and this is the hotly anticipated meeting of the two favorites to represent the East in the NBA Finals. The Sixers at 22-10 are considered somewhat of an under-performer early in this season. The Bucks however have stormed into the season 27-4 and are looking like a juggernaut. The Bucks are led by 6’11” Giannis Antetokounmpo with a roster tailor made for his immense talents. 

The Sixers, it could be argued, are purpose built to stop exactly this team. The team invested heavily in getting bigger, longer, and more physical defensively. In an era where the NBA has trended towards small ball, the Sixers and Bucks represent two teams that have “bucked” the trend. 

Comparing the Teams

Both led by massive size advantages at the lead ball handler position, Philadelphia and Milwaukee share some DNA in that regard. Milwaukee prefers to play a 5 out offense, versus the flow offense that the Sixers prefer. The Sixers have a down low anchor point in Joel Embiid which creates a natural counterpoint to the Bucks center Brook Lopez, who prefers to space the floor to remove rim protectors and allow for driving lanes for Giannis. 

The Bucks are second in the league in 3 point attempts, but hitting at just a league average rate. The offense is ultra geared towards spacing and analytics. The “5 Out” offense is super simple. The concept is having three point shooters in the corners, on the wings above the break, and one at the top of the key. The offense requires credible threats at all positions, and you really cannot hide anyone offensively. The key to everything is the ability to beat a defender off the dribble and force help to protect the rim. And that all starts with the reigning NBA MVP. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo 

Antetokounmpo is at the heart of everything the Bucks do. He is a matchup nightmare in a big way. At 6’11” with a 7’3″ wingspan, he creates tremendous pressure on other teams in how to guard him. The vast majority of NBA players are either too small, too weak, or too laterally sluggish to slow down his vertical attacking of the basket. Giannis is averaging 31 points on 31 minutes per game this season. 

The Bucks, as mentioned, built everything around his abilities. The roster is full of shooters who can knock down catch-and-shoot opportunities that he can create by bending the fabric of a defense’s spacetime. He is too much for one person to handle, so he simply penetrates, forces help, and kicks to the open man, or gets to the free throw line. 

Sixers Built For This? 

When you look around the NBA, there are a very small set of players who have the combination of tools to slow down Giannis. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have shown an ability to frustrate Giannis at times. But this past summer, Elton Brand signaled his intent to go to the NBA Finals by acquiring another player in Al Horford who has created problems for Giannis. Al Horford has the craft, attention to detail, and size to add another viable layer of defense and also a third look to slow down the attack.  

Simmons, Horford, and Embiid are all very different types of challenges for Giannis, and that mix of looks is what the Sixers are likely banking on to slow him down. Look for the team to use a combination of these players to create as much hesitation and limit Giannis’ rhythm. The rest of the Sixers will focus on pressing the three point line. 

Look for Tobias Harris, along with Ben Simmons, to spend significant time guarding Khris Middleton. Middleton is averaging 18 points per game and shooting 40% from three. 

Donte’s Inferno? 

Delaware local and Villanova National Champion Donte DiVincenzo has begun to emerge as a rotation player for the Bucks. Dante is averaging just under 14 points long with 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per 36 minutes. He has started 15 games this season for the top seeded Bucks with a 109 Ortg and 99 Drtg. 

DiVincenzo has good size and athleticism and is shooting 34% from three. As his shooting improves, so will his playing time. 

Recent History

  Apr 4, 2019 Philadelphia 76ers vs. Milwaukee Bucks L 122 – 128   Bucks       
  Mar 17, 2019 Philadelphia 76ers @ Milwaukee Bucks W 130 – 125   76ers       
  Oct 24, 2018 Philadelphia 76ers @ Milwaukee Bucks L 108 – 123   Bucks       
2017-18 Season
  Apr 11, 2018 Philadelphia 76ers vs. Milwaukee Bucks W 130 – 95   76ers       
  Mar 4, 2018 Philadelphia 76ers @ Milwaukee Bucks L 110 – 118   Bucks       
  Jan 29, 2018 Philadelphia 76ers @ Milwaukee Bucks L 95 – 107   Bucks       
  Jan 20, 2018 Philadelphia 76ers vs. Milwaukee Bucks W 116 – 94   76ers       

Prediction: Sixers 115 – 113