NBA Betting Odds, Picks, Predictions: 3 Best Bets for Heat vs. Bucks & Trail Blazers vs. Nuggets (Saturday, May 22)
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Damian Lillard.
- The NBA playoffs finally begun today after an exciting Play-In Tournament earlier in the week.
- Our staff made three of their favorites picks for today's four-game slate, that culminates in Trail Blazers vs. Nuggets.
- Read below to see which sides they're backing as the playoffs heat up.
If the start of the NBA Playoffs is anything like the play-in games, we’re in for a treat on Saturday.
The first day of playoff basketball brings us four games over a span of 10 hours with two matchups in the East (Heat vs. Bucks at 2 p.m. ET; Celtics vs. Nets 8 p.m. ET) and two more in the West (Mavericks vs. Clippers at 4:30 p.m. ET; Trail Blazers vs. Nuggets at 10:30 p.m. ET).
Our NBA analysts are making bets in two of those matchups today. You can check out their analysis and picks below.
Miami Heat vs. Milwaukee Bucks
Brandon Anderson: It’s the first game of the playoffs, and this is a game Milwaukee has been waiting 255 days for.
That’s because 255 days ago, the Bucks exited last year’s playoff bubble humiliated after losing as a heavily favored 1-seed to the underdog Miami Heat in a gentleman’s sweep. The Heat won a rescheduled Game 1 by 11, then stole Game 2 when Giannis Antetokounmpo couldn’t hit his free throws late. The Heat got Game 3 too, and that was pretty much that.
It’s easy to look back now and remember the Heat running the Bucks off the court, but it’s important not to forget the confluence of events that led to that result. The series almost didn’t even happen after George Hill and the Bucks led a social injustice protest less than a week before. The Bucks also didn’t get any home court advantage in the bubble after fighting for it all season.
When the games finally started, the Heat were scorching hot from 3s, making 21 more than Milwaukee for the series, including 22 from Jae Crowder alone. Goran Dragic had a big series, slicing the Bucks defense apart. Kelly Olynyk had some big stretches. And don’t forget, Eric Bledsoe missed that Game 1 loss, and Giannis Antetokounmpo got hurt early in Game 4 and didn’t play again.
All of that is what it took for the Heat to upset the Bucks a year ago. Injuries, pandemic, a protest hiatus, and extreme outlier shooting from both teams.
This year’s Bucks are better. They’re healthier, they have home court this time, and they’re hungry and mad about last year’s exit, so mad that they pounded Miami a week ago just because they could, even knowing they were setting up this matchup. This year’s Heat team is worse too. Crowder and Olynyk are gone, Dragic and Tyler Herro haven’t matched their bubble form, and the team’s shooting has gone totally astray.
I said on our Action Network Podcast a few weeks ago that this was the #1 matchup I wanted to bet on in the playoffs. Milwaukee clearly wanted it too. Time to put my money where my mouth is.
Miami Heat vs. Milwaukee Bucks
Raheem Palmer: The 2021 NBA Playoffs opens with a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference semifinal matchup in which the Miami Heat disposed of the Milwaukee Bucks in just five games. Both teams are much different since then with the Bucks replacing Eric Bledsoe with Jrue Holiday which provides them with a much better playmaker, scorer and defender to help lock down Miami’s guards who dominated over the course of the series.
Fresh off the bubble the Miami Heat struggled to regain their past form, dealing with a post Finals hangover, suffering injuries with absences due to health and safety protocols, as well as the free agency loss of Jae Crowder who shot 44.5% from behind the arc and was one of the primary defenders in building a wall for Giannis Antetokounmpo in last year’s playoff series. Although the Heat did pick up 17-year veteran, Trevor Ariza, he hasn’t made the impact Crowder did.
The biggest difference in the Heat since last season is their offense which is 19th in Offensive Rating, scoring 111.8 points per 100 possessions in their non garbage time minutes according to Cleaning the Glass. Offensively, Heat shooters have seen their 3-point shooting percentages plummet from last season, with Tyler Herro going from 38.9% to 36%, Duncan Robinson going from 44.6% to 40.8%, while Crowder and Kelly Olynyk, each of whom shot over 40%, are gone. Of course the Achilles heel for this Bucks defense continues to be the frequency of three-point field goals they allow.
They’re 26th in opponent three-point frequency, allowing opposing teams to shoot 38.9% from behind the arc. Unlike last season, they’ve been trying different defensive techniques to limit three-point attempts, and I believe Herro’s performance in the bubble was a fluke given the outrageous shooting numbers we’ve seen with no fans. With Goran Dragic a year older and Herro returning to his previous form, how do the Heat keep up offensively?
Although this offense has improved lately and they are 8-2 in their last 10 games, the Heat beat up on bottom feeders such as the Spurs, Cavaliers, Hornets, Timberwolves, Celtics without Jaylen Brown (2x), and Pistons, with the 76ers being the only team with a winning record on this list. Despite that, Miami is just 18th in midrange shooting percentage (40.8%) and 19th in 3-point shooting percentage (36.2%). The shooting that made them such a scary team in the bubble last year has regressed.
The Heat are also a poor rebounding team, ranking 24th in offensive rebound rate (24%). They’re getting fewer shots than their opponents, which is troublesome against a Bucks team which is third in defensive rebound rate.
Unfortunately we can’t take anything from this season’s matchups between the Bucks and Heat as Jimmy Butler didn’t play in all three of their games this season. Nonetheless, I think Butler and Bam Adebayo, who both generate most of their offense at the rim, should struggle against a Bucks defense which is fourth in opponent field goal percentage at the rim (61.6%).
Likewise, Antetokounmpo and this Bucks offense which is third in field goal percentage at the rim, shooting 67.8%, should have no problems scoring in the paint against this Heat defense which is allowing teams to shoot 64.7% at the rim.
Can the Heat build a wall and keep Antetokounmpo out of the paint? Can Holiday create plays off the dribble to keep this Heat defense honest? I’m buying the latter, not the former.
This Bucks team is hungry, they’ve faced disappointment two years in a row, they’ve upgraded their point guard, and more importantly, this team isn’t deep enough for head coach Mike Budenholzer to not play his stars optimal minutes.
My model makes this game Bucks -5.7, and I believe we’re seeing a discount based on what happened last year. I’ve spoken at length about the Miami Heat being a team I’ve wanted to fade in the postseason, and here’s my chance. I’ll lay the 4.5 points on the Bucks as they should win this game as well as the series. I also laid the -275 on the Bucks to win the series in addition to Bucks -1.5 games.
Portland Trail Blazers vs. Denver Nuggets
Kenny Ducey: I wrote about why I love the Blazers to win this series in our mega-preview for the postseason, and I’m inclined to believe they begin the postseason with a victory in Denver.
For starters, Portland was the second-best team on the road this season, going 22-14 straight up and 23-13 against the spread. It scored 118.3 points per 100 possessions in those games, compared to 116.0 at home.
Then, there’s the matchup. We’ve got a high-powered Trail Blazers offense against a Nuggets defense that got worse as the season wore on. Portland’s defense closed strong, and should be one of the determining factors here.
I’m also laser-focused on the battle in the frontcourt. The Nuggets have been able to bully teams all season long with Nikola Jokic in the post, but that hasn’t exactly worked against Portland, who out-rebounded Denver in two of the three regular-season meetings between the sides and had more total rebounds by a wide margin in those games. Jusuf Nurkic’s return for the Trail Blazers gave them an important secondary scoring option that wasn’t a three-point shot, and was a reliable option down the stretch in close games.
He also provided this team even more of a punch on the glass, combining with Enes Kanter to post the fifth-best rebounding rate over the last 15 games of the season. The Trail Blazers have the size here to be a huge issue for Denver, who has been starting to feel the loss of Jamal Murray over the past few weeks. They won’t miss him any less here.
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