Bucks vs. Rockets Betting Picks & Odds: Will Milwaukee’s Defensive Strategy Work Again?

Bucks vs. Rockets Betting Picks & Odds: Will Milwaukee’s Defensive Strategy Work Again? article feature image

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34), Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13).

NBA Betting Odds: Milwaukee Bucks at Houston Rockets 

  • Spread: Rockets -1.5
  • Over/Under: 230.5
  • Time: 8 p.m. ET
  • TV Channel: TNT

Odds as of Thursday at 3 p.m. ET and via PointsBet, where Action Network users can access an exclusive promotion to get a 200% deposit match (deposit $50, bet with $150).

Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden finished first and second in NBA MVP voting last season, so of course the NBA scheduled the two teams to open the season against each other.

Adding more intrigue to this matchup is the addition of point guard Russell Westbrook to the fold for the Rockets. The Rockets opened as -2 favorites against the Bucks and the odds have moved just a half-point toward the Bucks since.

We break down the highly anticipated matchup below.

Betting Trend to Know

Underdogs is Game 1 of the season have gone 120-103-2 (54%) against the spread since 2005. Teams that won 50 or more games the previous season and are dogs have gone 18-11 ATS.

Squads like the Bucks that won 60 or more games the previous season and open as underdogs have gone 4-0 ATS, covering by 17.3 points per game. John Ewing

Bryan Mears: Westbrook Changes This Matchup

I don’t currently have a bet on this game and likely won’t, to be fully transparent. If I had to choose a side to lean, it’d likely be the Rockets, however.

There’s a lot of uncertainty with Houston, especially with how James Harden and Russell Westbrook will fit together. I’m bullish on the combination, at least for the regular season.

We can argue all day about whether Russell Westbrook or this version of Chris Paul is a better play in the playoffs, but Westbrook at least brings stability, intensity and athleticism to a Houston team that was sorely lacking all three things a season ago.

These teams met twice last year, with the Bucks taking both affairs. It largely came down to shooting: The Rockets were their typical selves, taking 53% of their shots beyond the arc in the January matchup and 52% in March. They just didn’t hit enough, even from the corner, going 5-of-17 from the corner in Game 1 and 3-of-12 in Game 2.

PJ Tucker, who takes a lot of the corner-3s for Houston, went a combined 3-of-15. Many of them were good looks:

That’s how the Bucks’ defense is schemed: They’ve eschewed the newer strategy of switching or blitzing, and instead last year they played incredibly conservatively on defense, dropping back almost every time. That helped them limit shots at the rim, keeping Brook Lopez and his length in the paint.

It also meant they gave up a ton of 3s, although they were excellent at forcing role-players to take those shots rather than stars. In the above clip, they play conservatively but still somewhat double Harden, who is forced to pass.

The Bucks make bets on defense that they can force the worst offensive players on the floor to shoot, and it’s hard to argue it wasn’t a smashing success last year. Their defense ranked near the top of the league all year long, and they were at the top in percentage of 3s allowed to big men vs. guards.

Call it conservative; I’ll call it smart. It’s modern in its own way.

Two issues arise, though: First, what happens when teams make shots, as the Raptors did in the playoffs and as the Rockets are liable to do in any game?

Additionally, what happens when Westbrook is out there as a secondary ball-handler who can attack immediately if Harden passes out of the double? The Rockets didn’t have anyone who could do that last year; it was a made or missed 3. Will Westbrook be able to attack and put pressure the Bucks aren’t used to?

Again, there’s a lot of uncertainty tonight, which is why I’m not making a bet. But I’m generally bullish on this Houston team in the regular season and think the combo of Harden and Westbrook could be more lethal than expected. We’ll see what happens! Bryan Mears

Editor’s note: The opinions on this game are from the individual writers and are based on their research, analysis and perspective. They are independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.

How would you rate this article?