Nets-Bucks: Second-round series, NBA Finals-level talent

NEW YORK (AP) — Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving on one side. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday on the other.

Three former MVPs. Seven NBA scoring titles. The two highest-scoring teams in the league.

Brooklyn against Milwaukee is only a second-round series. Yet with all this talent, there’s a little bit of an NBA Finals feel.

“They’ve had their core and then they added some really good pieces, which is why they’ve been one of the best teams all year,” Harden said. “But if you look at our roster, we’re elite, too. And it’s going to be a showdown.”

The teams played three thrillers during the regular season and Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said the potential is there for this Eastern Conference semifinal between the No. 2-seeded Nets and No. 3 Bucks to be a classic.

“We’ll see how it plays out, but they’re playing as well as any team in the league right now. We have the talent to match any team in the league and it’s just a matter of who performs, who has that grit and toughness to try to get ahead in the series and then see how the other team responds,” Nash said.

“Definitely on paper you could see this being a classic series, but let’s see who brings it and who has the rhythm and timing and performances that are sharper.”

Game 1 is Saturday night in Brooklyn, with both teams rested and ready after cruising through the first round.

“I think it’s meant for a lot of the best players in the league to go up against one another and show why we are who we are,” Irving said.

Milwaukee blew away Miami in a sweep that emphatically avenged its second-round ouster a year ago. The only thing stopping the Nets from a sweep of their own was Jayson Tatum’s 50-point outburst in Game 3 in Boston.

Plenty of guys can go for 50 in this series.

Antetokounmpo, the two-time NBA MVP, nearly did against Brooklyn on May 2, pouring in 49 to outduel Durant, who had 42, in the Bucks’ 117-114 victory. Milwaukee won again two nights later, 124-118, to sweep the two-game set that Harden missed with injury.

He made it back for the playoffs and Brooklyn’s Big Three combined for 85.2 points per game against Boston, including 104 in Game 4 to match the highest total for a trio in NBA postseason history.

Milwaukee has good defenders, with Antetokounmpo the defensive player of the year last season and Holiday long considered one of the league’s best defensive guards. But nobody is even pretending this series will be won with stops, not with the Bucks averaging 120.1 points to Brooklyn’s 118.6 — despite just eight games with Durant, Harden and Irving — during the regular season.

“They’ve got three of the best scorers of all time on their team,” Milwaukee’s P.J. Tucker said. “They’re going to score a bunch of points, we know that, but we’ve just got to make it as tough as possible. We’ve got to make them work, earn every single point, nothing easy and whatever happens, happens. But we’re going to go battle and compete. Blood, sweat, tears. Leave it all on the floor.”

Other things to know about the series:

SEASON SERIES

Brooklyn never had its three stars together against Milwaukee. Irving missed the Nets’ 125-123 home victory on Jan. 18 in their second game after acquiring Harden from Houston. Durant and Harden, who have combined for two MVP awards and seven scoring titles, put up 64 points that night.

INJURY UPDATE

The Bucks have already lost starting guard Donte DiVincenzo for the playoffs after he tore a ligament in his left ankle during Game 3. Versatile forward Jeff Green is out for Game 1 and Nash said he will be day to day after that with a left foot injury that sidelined him the final three games of the first round.

BROOK IN BROOKLYN

Bucks center Brook Lopez will be back in Barclays Center, having played for the Nets in Brooklyn and New Jersey. He scored the most points in franchise history.

“I think I’m excited to go back and play in Brooklyn, play on that court again in Barclays, but obviously we’re going to be pretty focused once tipoff comes,” he said.

FORBES FOR 3

Bryn Forbes averaged 18.3 points and shot 16 of 30 from 3-point range during the final three games of the Bucks’ first-round sweep of Miami. He was a combined 7 of 12 from beyond the arc in the Bucks’ two-game sweep of the Nets in May.

BUCKS ON THE BOARDS

Milwaukee had a double-digit rebounding edge in each game against Miami and dominated the glass by a margin of 16.8 boards per game. The Bucks’ size advantage may make Nash consider reinserting former starting center DeAndre Jordan into the rotation.

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AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Milwaukee contributed to this report.

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