The Angles: Expect Bucks-Rockets to Be High-Scoring?
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Betting Odds: Milwaukee Bucks at Houston Rockets
- Spread: Bucks -1.5
- Over/Under: 228.5
- Time: 8 p.m. ET
- TV Channel: ESPN
>> All odds as of 6:15 p.m. ET. Download The Action Network App to get real-time NBA odds and track your bets
The trouble with analyzing the Bucks is that they have no comparison.
Milwaukee has taken MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo and surrounded him with shooters, going 5-out with Brook Lopez.
The result has been the second-best offensive rating in the league and the NBA’s best record.
Antetokounmpo is averaging 27-13-6 while shooting — wait for it — 65 percent on 2-point shots. No one has done that, ever. The only comparable players are Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
He is singularly exceptional at his style of play. Defending the Bucks is, well, a problem.
You can’t bring help because of their shooters and you can’t stay home on shooters because of Giannis’ physical dominance.
So when we look at Bucks (-1.5) at Rockets on Wednesday, what other players/teams can we draw from?
You need a dominant omega-forward who is incredible in transition, can pass and finish.
James put up 24 and 29 points vs. the Rockets this season in their two matchups, and averaged 4.5 assists. He also shot 11 three-pointers, hitting only four, and lost both games. Feels relevant. Giannis doesn’t have that 3-point ability.
The issue with comparing the Bucks to the Lakers and Thunder (with Russell Westbrook) is that neither team has the Bucks’ ability to spread the floor if you send help.
Milwaukee generates 34.5% of its points from 3-pointers, compared to 28.3% for the Lakers and 25.9% for OKC. The Bucks just have more shooting threats.
The Lakers typically have Tyson Chandler or JaVale McGee on the floor, which complicates spacing. When they clear-out McGee, however, take a look at what happens with James matched up on P.J. Tucker via the switch:
This is going to be the challenge for Houston tonight: trying to keep a body up on Giannis to stop him from dunking on them … all while staying home on shooters.
You can switch Capela onto him, but …
The bigger issue Houston will face is Brook Lopez.
Houston has experimented more the past few weeks with dropping the big in pick-and-roll coverage. Doing this keeps Capela (or Nene here) from getting burned while the ball-handler’s man recovers.
This works when the screener is a non-shooter, like is usually the case. But while the coverage would still have an issue with Brook Lopez popping to 3-point range, the bigger problem is that the Bucks don’t actually involve Lopez much in pick-and-rolls at all with Antetokounmpo. Lopez only accounts for 1.2 screen assists per game.
Typically, instead, the Bucks simply neutralize your center.
Against the Rockets, expect to see a lot of this, where Capela is forced to decide between staying home on Lopez, and helping vs. Antetokounmpo at the rim:
With that matchup analysis in mind, here are some of my betting leans for tonight’s game, analyzing the spread, over/under, and a few props:
Yes, Giannis is going to be a nightmare for Houston to defend, but this is still a coin-flip game. Harden and Antetokounmpo are the MVP leaders right now, and Harden is just unguardable.
The Bucks will have as hard a time containing him as the Rockets will with Antetokounmpo, and if Giannis picks up fouls guarding the Beard, that could tip it.
Milwaukee has a top-five defensive rating, but there’s something curious about it. The Bucks give up the most 3-point attempts per game and per 100 possessions of any team in the league.
Against the Rockets, who only shoots 3s and layups, that’s going to tilt the math in their favor, even with how well Milwaukee scores from the perimeter.
The pace of this game will be slow like all Rockets games are with the Harden ISOs, but even with that, the over is 21-17 in Rockets games this season, and 13-6 in Rockets home games.
This is going to be a tough, high-level-execution game, but it’s also going to be one featuring two teams with specific schematic weaknesses against each other.
Over Giannis Antetokounmpo 28.5 points
Our FantasyLabs model has this at a Bet Value of 5. I like the over, for the reasons described above. The Rockets are likely to keep trying the switch until it totally fails, and by that point, he may have 20 points early.
I don’t trust Houston’s defense to stay disciplined in this spot, and Capela hasn’t been good enough to deter the Freak at the rim.
Over James Harden 55.5 combined points, rebounds, assists
There’s no one on Milwaukee to stop Harden. I’m not sure that person exists in the league, period.
His points over/under is 38.5 for crying out loud.
The thing with Harden: Because of his usage and shot-making ability, he can have an absolutely crap game for three quarters and still be at 30 points entering the fourth with a chance for the win.
Expect Harden’s assists and points to get him most of the way to 55.5. The Bucks will likely have to send help to deter him at the rim per their scheme, and that will leave shooters open for Harden to play facilitator.