USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kemba Walker
- The Bucks and Hornets will tip off their 2018-19 NBA season at 7 p.m. ET. Milwaukee is a 3-point favorite over Charlotte.
- This Hornets team projects to be somewhere between not bad and pretty good. This Bucks team projects to be one of the biggest stories in the East.
The No. 1 game I’m keeping my eye on Wednesday night as the NBA opens its full slate: Milwaukee Bucks at Charlotte Hornets (+3) at 7 p.m. ET. Basketball, betting … this thing has it all.
The Bucks have as much hype as you can imagine, and I’m driving that hype train. I went to Milwaukee and found enough evidence to back Giannis Antetokounmpo for MVP.
This should be a monster season for Giannis, and the Hornets present an interesting challenge out of the box. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has the speed, defensive ability and size to at least try and challenge Antetokounmpo. In the past, MKG was always on a perimeter island vs. wings as part of Steve Clifford’s system. But new coach James Borrego will likely employ a different scheme. Without elite rim protectors behind Kidd-Gilchrist, can they stop Antetokounmpo?
Charlotte looked awfully good in the preseason. Kemba Walker vs. Eric Bledsoe is a top-level PG matchup. Miles Bridges stood out in the preseason, making huge plays and scoring routinely in the double digits. He played like a guy who is not going to allow the staff to not play him. No one knows what to expect from Malik Monk, who was disastrous last season. His field-goal percentage didn’t go up in the preseason, but he shot 44% from deep.
This Hornets team projects to be somewhere between not bad and pretty good. This Bucks team projects to be one of the biggest stories in the East. Expectations are high for this first game. Which leads us to the line.
You want to know the biggest sign of the hype being wild on Milwaukee? In this opening game — on the road vs. a team that has won at least 30 games in each of the past four seasons — the Bucks were getting 90% of the money and 80% of the tickets late Tuesday night, according to Sports Insights.
After opening at Bucks -1.5 early this week, on Tuesday the money moved it to Bucks -2.5. As of Wednesday evening, it’s at Bucks -3 — a full 1.5-point movement in two days. Then, predictably, once it got to three, the sharps started coming in and our metrics now show an 11% differential between public and sharp money percentage:
(via Sports Insights)
(Via the Action Network app)
Making this more complicated is our projected line of 4.5 for a neutral-court environment. Adjusting for Charlotte’s home court, that puts it closer to the Bucks-1.5, the original line. But those evaluations are still operating in part off last season’s performance.
One final note: Via our Bet Labs data, teams that were underdogs in their home opener and receiving less than 30% of the tickets have gone 15-6 against the spread. Home opener dogs make me awfully nervous.
SO… WHAT’S THE DEAL?
I won’t blame you if you want to fade the Giannis hype, follow the sharp money and back the Hornets as a home dog.
It’s just hard for me to wrap my head around wagering against an MVP-caliber talent in Game 1 of what could end up being a transcendent season.
So while I think Giannis and the Bucks find a way to cover a one-possession spread more often than not, there are enough signals contradicting that notion to make this a stay-away for me.