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Bucks vs. Bulls Series Odds & Betting Preview: Back Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee to Dominate Round 1

Bucks vs. Bulls Series Odds & Betting Preview: Back Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee to Dominate Round 1 article feature image
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Stacy Revere/Getty Images. Pictured: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks drives around Alex Caruso #6 of the Chicago Bulls.

The Milwaukee Bucks begin their hunt for back-to-back titles with a familiar foe.

Back in the playoffs, the Chicago Bulls had a breakout first half of the season, but injuries have sapped their threat as they ultimately limped into the playoffs.

Can DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine lead the Bulls to a monster upset over the champs? Will Giannis Antetokounmpo and company steamroll the Bulls? More importantly, where’s the value? Let’s dive into it.

The Trend You Need To Know

Under Mike Budenholzer, the Bucks are 54-8 straight up versus Central Division teams and 44-18 Against The Spread. They are 4-0 in the playoffs when facing a divisional opponent, having swept the Pistons three years ago.

The Bulls are a better team than most of those opponents have been through the last three seasons, though that division has been weak over the last few years.

Nonetheless, there’s something to the fact that the Bucks have dominated teams with a familiarity. The trend is so significant that it should at least be worthy of consideration.

The Bucks’ Matchup Problem

Milwaukee’s got a defensive issue of late. There’s every reason to think they’ll lock it down once the postseason begins, but the Bucks have given up the most 3-point attempts and makes per 100 possessions since the All-Star Break. They’ve collapsed down on the paint and allowed high-quality, high-efficiency shots.

The Bulls, on the other hand, are the fourth-best 3-point shooting team in the league. They have high-percentage shooters who could create issues.

For Chicago, the problem is volume. The Bulls shoot the fewest 3s in the league. They will never keep pace with the Bucks’ offense unless they start to generate more 3s. They need to find ways to create 3-point opportunities in transition (where the Bulls are last in 3-point rate), pick-and-roll, isolation — whatever it takes.

The Bucks average 3.2 more 3s per 100 possessions than the Bulls, and that’s 3.2 more points per 100 possessions based on just performing to season standards.

The Bucks’ Matchup Advantage: Destroying the Paint

Chicago is 29th in opponent Rim Rate this season, giving up the second-highest percentage of shots at the rim. This is a problem against the mechanical dragon train imbued with the Power Cosmic that is Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The Bucks have gotten whatever they’ve wanted versus Chicago this season in the paint.

Giannis is going to feast in this matchup. In the minutes where the Bucks go small, if Vucevic is on the floor, he’s toast trying to guard him in transition:

Similarly, Tristan Thompson has no shot; Giannis averages 28 points per 100 possessions in half court matchups versus Thompson, and that’s it, the Bulls have no other legitimate bigs to contest.

The Bulls feast versus drop coverage in pick-and-roll. They’re seventh-best in the league, scoring .993 points per possession against it due to their great mid-range scorers.

But the Bucks are arguably the best team in the league in drop coverage at this point, and the Bulls average just .764 points per possession against Milwaukee’s drop, the second-worst for the Bulls vs. any team.

They fall to pieces because of how Milwaukee is able to get over screens to contest. If you’re never comfortable with the defender trailing behind you, and the big knows how to navigate space, you can’t get to where you want.

Chicago shoots the most mid-range shots in the league. They can make those against the Bucks as Milwaukee gives up the third-highest field goal percentage in the league on such shots.

But that’s still just a 42.8% percentage. Those shots are inherently less efficient, which is why the Bucks are willing to give up more of them (10th-most per game).

These are the shots the Bucks will live with, as DeRozan fades away with Jrue Holiday (or in this case Wesley Matthews) tailing:

The Bulls are built to take what the defense gives you, and the Bucks are built to give you a shot but still contest it at a high level with great defenders.

The Bulls’ Matchup Advantage: None

I’m not trying to be funny or reductive here, nor do I mean to imply that Chicago can’t win a game, games, or the series. Basketball is not played in pure matchups; it is effort, execution, heart, hustle, blah blah blah, and above almost all else, shot variance. If the Bulls make contested shots, and the Bucks miss open ones, Chicago can absolutely win this thing.

The problem is finding where the Bulls have an identity advantage. The Bucks allow a ton of 3s. Okay, great, the Bulls don’t shoot them. The Bucks can go cold on jumpers. Great, the Bulls struggle to defend inside. The Bulls are great in transition. Awesome, the Bucks allow the fifth-fewest fast break points per 100 possessions. Chicago’s an efficient shooting team. Neat, the Bucks can outpace you with 3-point volume.

Again, this can go sideways, but it’s going to take bad shot luck for Milwaukee, good shot luck for Chicago, and poor execution, because if both teams play to their identities, Milwaukee has an edge in every facet.

The Bet

Bucks -2.5 on the series spread accounts for both a sweep and 4-1. I can’t see Chicago taking more than one game in this series unless there’s an injury to a Bucks starter.

I do think Zach LaVine is likely to have a big series. DeRozan has always struggled once the postseason begins, but LaVine is a three-level scorer. Even with his balky knee, he’ll get enough opportunities against the drop coverage to convert.

Giannis, however, needs to be played consistently on props. He’s -450 to lead the series in scoring – there’s no value there – so you’ll have to go game by game. But the Bulls do not have the bodies to slow him down.

If you’re betting Bucks game by game, be prepared for frustrating shooting stretches. The Bucks are the eighth-worst on uncontested shots in the playoffs over the last three seasons.

Ultimately, Milwaukee should win this series in no more than five games.

Bet: Bucks Series Spread -2.5 Wins (-170, DraftKings)

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