Bulls vs. Bucks Odds & Game 1 Preview, Pick: Value on First Half Spread in Milwaukee (April 17)
Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34), Nikola Vucevic (9) of the Chicago Bulls.
- Two division rivals, the Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks, go head-to-head in Game 1 of the No. 3 vs. No. 6 series in the East.
- The Bucks are double-digit favorites against the slumping Bulls and have dominated this matchup for several years.
- Will the reigning champs cover the spread? Raheem Palmer previews the game, plus gives his betting pick.
Bulls vs. Bucks Odds
The Bucks’ decision to rest their starters against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the last game of the season to guarantee a matchup with the Bulls might have given them a positive expectation in regards to their championship chances. They couldn’t ask for a more ideal matchup as they’ve dominated the Bulls in Giannis Antetokounmpo era, winning 16 out of the past 17 games.
With the Bucks expected to win this series in dominant fashion, is their any value in Game 1? Let’s analyze both sides and find out!
Bulls Draw Worst Possible Matchup
The Bulls had a blistering 27-11 start to the NBA season thanks to the stellar play of free agent pick up DeMar Derozan and Zach LaVine. Then it all fell apart with injuries to their biggest defensive difference makers Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso.
While Caruso is back in the lineup, the Bulls rank just 25th in Defensive Rating since the All-Star break, allowing 117.9 points per 100 possessions. The only teams that were worse defensively during this span were a bunch of the league’s disappointments — Washington Wizards, Los Angeles Lakers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Indiana Pacers and Portland Trail Blazers. With their defense playing so poorly, it’s no surprise the Bulls went 8-15 since the break.
They’ve been equally as bad in the half court and transition, struggling to contain the ball, guard the pick-and-roll and defend without fouling as they rank 20th in opponent Free Throw Rate (20). The Bulls are also allowing the highest frequency of field goal attempts at the rim (36.5%), they are all but drawing dead at stopping Antetokounmpo with their personnel. Tristan Thompson and Nikola Vucevic have no shot and the Bulls also struggle to defend the perimeter, allowing opposing teams to shoot the fourth-highest field goal percentage from behind the arc (37.2%).
Since this team doesn’t have any chance of slowing down the Bucks defensively outside of shooting variance and their chances of winning rest solely on their offense, specifically LaVine and Derozan. The latter has historically struggled in the postseason, scoring just 21.9 points per game on 41.8% shooting. However, his last postseason appearance in 2019 with the Spurs was a departure from his years in Toronto as he averaged 22 points on 48.7% shooting.
Derozan should find some success against the Bucks as they are 24th in mid-range shooting percentage (43.3%), but with Jrue Holiday likely drawing the assignment, he could have moments where he struggles. In two games Derozan was guarded by Holiday, he scored 29 points on 36.7% shooting and 21 points on 43.5% shooting.
LaVine should also get hot against a team that allows the second-highest frequency of 3-point field goals (41.8%). The problem is, the Bulls take the lowest percentage of 3-point field goals (30.4%), which won’t cut it against the Bucks who can create a math problem as they trade midrange 2s for 3s.
Bucks Can Dominate Even When Coasting
The Bucks have been downright dominant against the Bulls this season, winning the four matchups by an average of 14.7 points with the last two matchups being decided by a combined 49 points.
Mike Budenholzer also owns the Central Division as a whole during his tenure with the Bucks, coaching his team to a 50-8 record. While the Bulls are a different team this season, this does speak to the dominance the Bucks have exhibited in this matchup — the last time Antetokounmpo lost to the Bulls was December 2017.
The Bucks have spent much of this season coasting and had a slow start due to injuries. Still, this team ended the season with the third-best record in the Eastern Conference (51-31), the league’s eighth-best Net rating (+3.3) and the fifth-best Offensive Rating (115.6) in their non-garbage time minutes.
The Bucks should get whatever they want offensively in this matchup and it starts with Antetokounmpo who finished second in scoring, averaging 29.9 points while also grabbing 11.2 rebounds and dishing 5.8 assists.
The Bulls haven’t had any answers for him this season and that should continue here — it’s tough to imagine them slowing down Middleton or Holiday either. With the Bucks shooting the sixth-highest frequency of 3s and making them at the eighth-highest rate (37%), they should outmatch the Bulls offensively based primarily on their volume of 3s.
The Bucks have had a top-10 defense for much of the Mike Budenholzer era, however this season we’ve seen them fall off a cliff, ranking just 14th in Defensive Rating (112). While most analysts don’t expect that to continue — they were likely coasting during the regular season after winning the championship — there is a cause for concern.
The Bucks allow the second-highest frequency of 3-point attempts (41.8%), but because the Bulls don’t take as many 3s, Milwaukee’s defensive deficiencies ultimately may not matter in this matchup.
I backed the Bucks -2.5 games on the series spread and to win in 4 games +250 and while I expect to win and dominate this series, the point spread is the great equalizer.
My model makes this game Bucks -10.35 which is where the market has it. The last two matchups were telling however as the Bucks defeated the Bulls by a combined 49 points.
I don’t want to lay the 10 full game but I expect the Bucks to jump on the Bulls early and send a message. I’ll lay the 5.5 points on the Bucks in the first half.
Pick: Bucks -5.5 1H