MIAMI – Brandon Jennings is fearless. The Milwaukee Bucks’ point guard always has been and probably always will be. And it’s hard not to admire that trait in him.
You don’t skip college for pro ball in Italy, declare yourself better than than international teen sensation Ricky Rubio and then back that claim up with four fantastic NBA seasons and have an ounce of fear in you.
But that fearlessness alone won’t be enough to propel the Bucks in their first round playoff series against the Miami Heat. They’ll need All-Star work out of Jennings and equal doses of fearlessness and spectacular play from the entire roster just to make this thing as interesting on the court as it has been in the build up to Game 1 here tonight at AmericanAirlines Arena. (On TNT, 7 p.m. ET)
Thursday night at the Wisconsin Sports Award ceremony, where he was picking up an award for his work in the community, Jennings uttered these famous words: ”I’m real confident. I’m sure everybody is writing us off but I see us winning the series in six.”
That’s a playoff guarantee even Rasheed Wallace could appreciate. And while Jennings said later that he was making that prediction after joking about it with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, his words took on a life of their own. If he was attempting to put the pressure on the Heat instead of him and Monta Ellis or Bucks coach Jim Boylan, it’s not clear whether that mission has been accomplished just yet.
There is, however, recent evidence that a No. 8 can actually pull this off.
Two of the five instances in league history when a No. 1 seed has been upset by a No. 8 have come in the past two seasons. The Philadelphia 76ers did it last year against the Chicago Bulls, but only after Bulls All-Star Derrick Rose tore his ACL in Game 1. And the Memphis Grizzlies stunned the San Antonio Spurs the year before that.
This Heat team, however, is a far superior outfit to either of those aforementioned upset victims. They won 66-games this season, including that monster 27-game win streak, and have been vetted like few other great teams when you consider all that has gone on with this Heat crew the past three seasons.
“We don’t feel we can be beat in a series,” Heat center Chris Bosh said. “We say that in the most humble manner possible. We’ve been humbled already. I think before, all those other teams [upset], they were either injured or just caught slipping or they were in a five-game series. We’re not in that predicament so it’s a little different.”
The Bucks also have to contend with a rested and hungry LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, two stars who have welcomed all challenges since joining forces with Bosh here in Miami.
Jennings might very well have the advantage in his individual matchup against Mario Chalmers, though the ultra-confident Chalmers would love to argue that. And the Bucks have the same fighting chance any No. 8 seed does before the games actually begin. But it’s not like the Heat don’t see the challenge coming. They’ve been on guard for three years running now.
That would explain the reaction of Bosh, Wade and the rest of the Heat. They’ve seen and heard it all before (you remember the Indiana series from last year or the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals last year?). All that’s left is to play the games.
“We’ve been in every situation where it’s happened,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We’ve been up in a series and it’s happened. We’ve been down in a series and it’s happened. It’s happened, so what? [Sunday] night, bring it. That’s the only thing we can control.”
It’s going to take more than a healthy dose of bravado for the Bucks, or anyone else for that matter, to beat the Heat.