NBA Playoffs: 3 X-Factor Bucks who could surprise us, 2 who could fall flat

Apr 2, 2023; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 2, 2023; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /
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Milwaukee Bucks: Brook Lopez, Utah Jazz: Simone Fontecchio
Mar 24, 2023; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA: Christopher Creveling-USA TODAY Sports /

A Milwaukee Bucks’ NBA Finals matchup with the Denver Nuggets could be an issue for Brook Lopez

Giving credit where credit is due, Brook Lopez has been fantastic for Milwaukee all season. He’s a bona fide Defensive Player of the Year candidate and has been the bedrock of the Bucks’ defense all year. There’s no overlooking the impact that he has on that end of the floor.

Lopez leads the league in blocks by a hair; he’s got 193 compared to the 189 that Jaren Jackson Jr. has, but he’s blowing the rest of the league out of the water in contested shots. There’s Lopez (1,363) and then a Lake Michigan-sized gap between him and the next closest player (Nic Claxton with 917). All that rim protection has translated to a 106.6 defensive rating when Lopez in the floor, per

This is putting the cart way ahead of the horse, but there should be real concerns that all of that defensive impact could go out the window if the Bucks face the Denver Nuggets in the NBA Finals.

A matchup with Nikola Jokic could spell trouble for Lopez and Milwaukee. There are legitimate reasons to worry about Lopez’s ability to guard Jokic or even stay on the floor with him for a full seven-game series. If you need proof look no further than the 129-106 beatdown the Nuggets laid on the Bucks just a few weeks ago. The likely MVP had a cool 31 points, 11 assists, and six rebounds for the Western Conference-leading Nuggets.

The issue with Denver is that they take away Lopez’s ability to park himself around the paint and provide the rim protection that Milwaukee has relied so heavily on all season. You can’t leave Jokic alone at the top of the key, he’s too good of a shooter for that. Pull Lopez out of the paint, and you’re relying on the other Bucks defenders to be stuck to their matchup to prevent Jokic from finding a cutting Nugget or counting on someone – likely Giannis – to provide the supplementary rim protection you need to alter or block a shot.

You can try to play Giannis on Jokic or maybe slide Bobby Portis on him, but I’d bank on Budenholzer leaving Brook out there and trying to figure it out. It’s hard to blame him for that given the impact that Lopez has had all season, but that decision could be the end of the Bucks’ title hopes.

Ultimately, this is less about Lopez falling flat and more about a poor matchup that could play him off the floor. That’s not necessarily a knock against Lopez; it’s more a credit to the otherworldly impact that the likely three-time MVP has on the game. But no matter how you slice it, it could be the nail in the Bucks’ coffin come June.