Preview capsule for the NBA Finals, which start Tuesday:
West No. 2 PHOENIX SUNS (51-21, 12-4) vs. East No. 3 MILWAUKEE BUCKS (46-26, 12-5)
Season series: Suns, 2-0.
Schedule: Tuesday and Thursday at Phoenix, Sunday and July 14 at Milwaukee, July 17 at Phoenix if necessary, July 20 at Milwaukee if necessary, July 22 at Phoenix if necessary.
Storyline: Milwaukee is seeking its first NBA title in 50 years, and Phoenix is seeking its first in franchise history. The Bucks are in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974, the Suns for the first time since 1993.
Point guard matchup: Phoenix’s Chris Paul vs. Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday. Paul is still perhaps the best maestro in the game, Holiday is considered one of the top on-ball defenders.
Shooting guard matchup: Phoenix’s Devin Booker vs. Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton. Both are good enough to simply carry their teams when they get on hot streaks. These two will be Olympic teammates after the NBA Finals, along with Holiday.
Small forward matchup: Phoenix’s Mikal Bridges vs. Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo (or Bobby Portis). The biggest question about the series is whether Antetokounmpo’s hyperextended left knee will allow him to play. If it does, then the questions shift to about how much and how effective he can be playing through pain. Bridges, meanwhile, is quietly steady. He doesn’t miss games and shoots better than 50% from the field, better than 40% from 3-point range.
Power forward matchup: Phoenix’s Jae Crowder vs. Milwaukee’s P.J. Tucker. They are the enforcers on both sides, the strong guys, the ones who will get physical when necessary and serve as emotional leaders as well. Crowder went to the NBA Finals last year with Miami.
Center matchup: Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton vs. Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez. Ayton has had a brilliant first playoffs, and Lopez has more than enough size to give him problems.
The bench keys: Cam Johnson and Cameron Payne will be among the early ones off the bench for Phoenix, while Pat Connaughton and Bryn Forbes have been major contributors in the postseason for Milwaukee.
Injury watch: Antetokounmpo’s knee is a top issue. For the Suns, the worst of it right now is whether Booker will get his broken nose aggravated again and return to playing with a mask.
Numbers of note: Phoenix won both regular-season meetings by exactly one point, 125-124 on Feb. 10 and 128-127 on April 19. The Suns and Bucks were the only teams in the NBA to play multiple one-point games against each other this season. … Phoenix was one of two teams that did not lose to Milwaukee during the regular season. Utah was the other. … If Phoenix wins the title, the Suns will have won 67 games this season, which would tie for third-most in any season in franchise history. … Milwaukee was 29-5 when scoring at least 124 points this season — 0-2 vs. Phoenix, and 29-3 vs. everyone else. The Bucks are also 23-1 at home when scoring at least 120 points this season; the loss was to Phoenix.
Prediction: The Bucks had to win a Game 7 on the road in the second round to keep their season alive, then won four of the last five games in the Eastern Conference finals to oust Atlanta. But the Antetokounmpo issue is huge, and Paul has waited forever for this chance. Phoenix won’t let it slip. While “Suns in four” has become a rallying cry in the valley, it’ll be Suns in six for the title.