Phoenix Suns’ Game 1 dangers: 3 Bucks who could cause trouble

Milwaukee Bucks, Khris Middleton (Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
Milwaukee Bucks, Khris Middleton (Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Phoenix Suns are set for their first NBA Finals game since 1993, and they are favored to win their first-ever championship.

This team is organically built, with several important acquisitions at the forefront of team construction.

To win the title, a team needs to be ready for Game 1, and there already have been playoff lessons learned about how well this team can do when it’s ready from the opening tip; and also when the team “just shows up,” as coach Monty Williams lamented after key losses during this postseason.

The Phoenix Suns very much know what the Milwaukee Bucks bring in terms of significant challenges, but there are three players who are well-equipped to spoil the Game 1 party.

(Giannis Antetokounmpo is not part of this discussion because, well, he’s an obvious problem if he plays, but his status was very much in doubt on Monday.)

Williams and his staff have pored over the video, identified opportunities and implemented a game plan. The players have first-hand experience with the Bucks, winning both matchups by one point.

Phoenix Suns need to stop this guy from killing them: Khris Middleton

Khris Middleton is almost — almost — an alpha.

Fans saw his knockout performances during this postseason, but a closer look finds him experiencing extended droughts.

Against the Brooklyn Nets and the Hawks, Middleton had three games of 35 points or more but also three games of 15 points or fewer.

At 29, Middleton is as good as he’s ever been, with his per game averages up in scoring (20+ ppg), rebounding (six per game), assists (5.4) and shooting percentage (FG, 3pt FG, FT) all better than his career averages.

His production has continued to improve during the Bucks’ postseason run. Middleton is putting up 24 points and eight rebounds per game, though he hit only 14 of his 51 attempts from 3-point range against the Hawks.

The game plan: Make him work for everything, and hope that Devin Booker can draw enough attention via double teams to force Middleton into max effort on defense, too.

Random stat: Tuesdays were bad for him. Only Saturdays during the regular season saw him score less and rebound less than Tuesdays. You take what you can.

Phoenix Suns need to stop this guy from killing them: Jrue Holiday

He’s not a dangerous guy like Patrick Beverley, DeMarcus Cousins or Marcus Morris — guys who would have no real problem dealing out physical harm — but Holiday will be trouble because of his defense and scoring.

Holiday, 31, finished the regular season at 17.7 points per game, hitting almost 40 percent from 3-point range, but stumbled through the first two rounds of the Eastern Conference playoffs, missing 46 of his 61 attempts from long range.

The problem for Phoenix? He found his stroke during the conference finals against Atlanta, making 37 percent from 3-point range and elevating his scoring from 15 points per game after two rounds to 22 ppg against the Hawks.

The UCLA product is a very strong, and wide, defender who is a willing playmaker (10 assists per game against Atlanta).

Phoenix Suns need to stop this guy from killing them: Brook Lopez

Suns fans are well aware: He’s the better of the Lopez boys. When Brook Lopez was forced to play largely in the paint because of Giannis’ injury, he dominated. He matches Deandre Ayton — a tiny bit less athletic perhaps, but a ton more experienced. If he commits to stopping Ayton’s dives to the rim and keeps him off the offensive glass, the Suns may need to adjust.

Defense wins championships, so they say, and there is plenty to say about the defensive specifics in this series right here.

On offense, he’s not approaching his career scoring average during the postseason, but he’s knocking down his long-range open looks (41 percent in the conference semifinals; 37.5 in the conference finals).

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It would be painful to allow a Lopez twin to hurt the Suns in the NBA Finals.