If I had told you at the midpoint of the NBA season that the Orlando Magic would wipe the floor with the Milwaukee Bucks in their playoff opener, you’d be somewhat surprised. “You think that’s surprising?” I’d say, before proceeding to explain that, due to a pandemic, the game would be played inside of a bubble on a Tuesday afternoon in August. You’d probably forget all about the No. 8–seeded Magic’s unexpected 122–110 win given this newer shock, which is a shame, because Orlando really did play great.
The NBA postseason is a slog, and it’s foolish to read too much into any single game so early in a series. One needn’t look any further than last season for reference, when the Magic beat the heavily favored Toronto Raptors in Game 1 of their first-round matchup. Toronto won the next four games en route to its first championship in franchise history. Anyone prone to believing in patterns will see Tuesday’s loss as a good omen for Milwaukee. However, those prone to believing in patterns and seeding history will presume it means the Bucks have a 66.7 percent of being doomed.
It may have been just one game, but there are legitimate warning signs for Milwaukee. The Bucks had the best defense in the NBA during the regular season (and one of the best defenses in history), but the Magic carved them up for 122 points and maintained a lead for the final 45 minutes of the game. They did this without the injured trio of Jonathan Isaac, Michael Carter-Williams, and Aaron Gordon. (Carter-Williams and Gordon will likely return sometime during this series.) Milwaukee, meanwhile, was more or less at full strength. They just played like crap.
Rotten playoff performances routinely get overanalyzed, but a Bucks stinker was always going to bring out the Smell-o-Scopes. Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is a free agent after the 2020-2021 season*, meaning that every possible playoff outcome will be viewed through the prism of whether he’ll sign a contract extension or demand a trade. Like LeBron, Durant, and Kawhi before him, Giannis’ loyalty (or lack thereof) will be the defining story of the offseason. Take a whiff—you can already smell the takes brewing.
Giannis had a strong relationship with former Bucks head coach Jason Kidd. Kidd is currently an assistant with the Los Angeles Lakers. Giannis to the Lakers?
Giannis famously tweeted that he enjoys smoothies. The New Orleans Pelicans play at the Smoothie King Center. This can only mean that Giannis wants to play … with former Pelican Anthony Davis, who is currently on the Lakers.
Giannis went 0-for-5 from the field in the final 11 minutes and 27 seconds against the Magic. Eleven, 27 … 11/27 … Nov. 27 … the birthday of Nick Van Exel, who was a fan favorite for … the Lakers. Giannis to Los Angeles confirmed.
The assumption is that an NBA championship would seal Giannis’ future with Milwaukee, an outcome that seemed more likely before the bubble (Bucks record: 53–12) than inside of it (Bucks record: 3–6). But, in case you haven’t noticed, no one has the faintest idea about literally anything nowadays. I just watched Nikola Vucevic score 35 points and go 5-for-8 from downtown in an August playoff game in Walt Disney World. Shit is weird.
Milwaukee will be eligible to sign Giannis to a supermax extension this offseason, which would be a huge advantage for the team under normal circumstances. But normal circumstances are a luxurious relic, and uncertainty reigns when it comes to the financial future of the league. It’s difficult to picture a full season’s worth of games being played in packed stadiums, and the lack of gate receipts will wreak havoc on the salary cap. The Bucks may not find the supermax as enticing as they did six months ago.
And there’s the bubble itself. What happens when the players get tired of ping-pong and fishing? All that’s left to do is—gasp!—collude.
Game 2 between Milwaukee and Orlando is on Thursday. If the Bucks haven’t put Giannis inside his own individual bubble within the main bubble like a Matryoshka doll, then they are asking for trouble.* It’s the least a team can do after losing a game to the Orlando Magic in the first round.
Correction, Aug. 19, 2020: This piece originally misspelled Matryoshka.
Correction, Sep. 5, 2020: This piece originally misstated that Antetokounmpo’s contract expires after the bubble.