Lakers vs. Bucks Odds & Picks: Value on Over/Under in Matchup Between Title Contenders
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured from left: Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) & Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3).
- LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo star in an epic Thursday night NBA matchup between Championship Contenders.
- The Los Angeles Lakers are 1- to 1.5-point favorites against the Bucks in Milwaukee, and the game total sits around 229 across the betting market.
- NBA betting analyst Raheem Palmer breaks down the matchup and explains why he sees value on Thursday night's over/under.
Lakers vs. Bucks Odds
In a possible NBA Finals preview, the Los Angeles Lakers (11-4) travel to take on the Milwaukee Bucks (9-5) in a marquee Thursday Night matchup.
The Lakers hope to rebound after blowing a 19-point lead to the Golden State Warriors on Monday night and suffering their fourth loss of the season. Meanwhile, the Bucks are coming off a thrilling 125-123 loss against the Brooklyn Nets.
These teams split their two matchups last season, with the Bucks winning the first matchup 111-104 at home and the Lakers winning the second matchup 113-103. Oddsmakers seem to view these teams as evenly matched, as the Milwaukee Bucks opened as 1-point favorites with a total of 230.
With both of these teams poised to make a Finals and looking to bounce back after tough losses, let’s find out where the betting value lies.
Los Angeles Lakers
You don’t have to be fully immersed in NBA Twitter or be a hardcore fan to recognize that the Lakers are the cream of the crop in the league. The defending NBA Champions boast a number of early-season accolades, including:
- The league’s best overall record (11-4)
- NBA-best 9.38 SRS Rating
- 4th in Offensive Rating (116.2)
- 1st in Defensive Rating (105.1)
- 1st in Rebound Rate (53.6%)
- 2nd in Defensive Rebound rate (76.7%)
The Lakers have greatly improved from 3-point range this season, improving from 21st in 3-point percentage (34.9%) last season to 7th place (39.1%) early in 2021. However, they did shoot just 9-of-29 from behind the arc in Monday’s loss against the Warriors, and they’ll need to shoot better from the perimeter against a Bucks team that concedes open 3s.
The most impressive thing about the Lakers is that they’ve achieved early-season dominance despite LeBron James playing a career-low 32.2 minutes per game. James is also averaging just 23.7 points per game, which is James’ lowest average since his rookie season. Anthony Davis is also putting up his lowest scoring output since his sophomore season at 21.3 points per game.
Given the depth of this roster, playing a season just weeks after winning a championship in the bubble, and their propensity for blowing out teams this season, LA hasn’t pushed its stars much. This team is 11-deep and has six players putting up double figures in points.
Nonetheless, it’s simply human nature to let up a bit when you’re comfortable, as the Lakers did in their 115-113 home loss against the Warriors. LA controlled the game throughout the contest — leading by as many as 19 points, including a 14-point margin in the fourth quarter.
James and Davis played 37 and 38 minutes, respectively, on Monday night, which is the most minutes either player has logged all season. Both are listed in the injury report with ankle sprains but are probable for tonight’s matchup. And, given the two-day rest, they should be good to go.
The Lakers have played the league’s fifth-toughest schedule and now hit the road for a seven-game road trip, drawing matchups against the Bucks, Bulls, Cavaliers, 76ers, Pistons, Celtics and Hawks before heading back home to take on the Nuggets.
After LA’s tough loss against the Warriors earlier this week, this team should be motivated to start the road trip on the right note. While the Lakers are just 4-4 at home, they’re 7-0 straight-up (SU) and against the spread (ATS) on the road with a margin of victory of 14.3 points. They’ve particularly locked down on the defensive end of the floor, holding teams to just 99.4 points per 100 possessions.
That said, it’s worth noting that LA hasn’t faced the toughest competition on the road thus far: The Lakers have defeated the Spurs, Grizzlies, Rockets and Thunder. So, while the team’s sterling 7-0 road ATS record is impressive, the real test starts now.
The Milwaukee Bucks have also picked up where they left off as one of the best regular season teams over the last two seasons. They enter Thursday’s game with a 9-5 record, holding the league’s second-highest SRS at 8.38, trailing only the Lakers.
Led by the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and back-to-back MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks have the best offense in the league. Milwaukee is averaging 117.7 points per 100 possessions, which ranks among the best in league history to this point.
Antetokounmpo continues to make his case as the league’s best player, averaging 27.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists. Meanwhile, Khris Middleton looks poised for his second straight All-Star appearance while brandishing an impressive stat-line of his own. Middleton averages 22.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game while shooting 52.7% from the field and 43.9% from behind the arc.
The Bucks are the fourth-best 3-point shooting team in the league (40.4%) and are getting the majority of their points at the rim and from behind the arc — areas where the analytics say you generate the most efficient offense.
The addition of Jrue Holiday has been a major upgrade over Eric Bledsoe, who left a lot to be desired at point guard. However, the Bucks did have to give up much of their depth in order to acquire Holiday’s services.
Milwaukee’s defense has taken a step back: The Bucks rank 10th in Defensive Rating (109.6) during non garbage time minutes according to Cleaning The Glass. Over the past two weeks in particular, they’ve given up 110.6 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 15th during that time span.
Nonetheless, Milwaukee’s middling defensive metrics haven’t really mattered much. The team has only dropped games against the Utah Jazz and Brooklyn Nets since the start of the new year.
However, in some ways that’s telling in regards to how to defeat this team. The Jazz and the Nets are the second- and third-ranked teams, respectively, in 3-point shooting percentage. The Bucks have built a defense that is designed around a drop-heavy pick-and-roll scheme that emphasizes protecting the rim at all costs while conceding 3s.
In Utah’s 131-118 win over the Bucks, the Jazz shot 25-of-53 (47.2%) from behind the arc. Utah set a franchise record for the most 3s en route to victory and became the first team in NBA history to have five players make four or more 3-pointers in a single game.
In Brooklyn’s 125-123 win on Monday night, the Nets made 15-of-31 (48.4%) 3s while Milwaukee struggled from behind the arc. Still, the Bucks held a 1-point lead before Kevin Durant’s game-winning 3 with 36 seconds to go. Milwaukee still had a chance to win before Middleton’s 3-point answer bounced in and out.
Oddsmakers opened the game total at 228.5. As of Wednesday night, we’ve witnessed some movement pushing the over/under to 229 and 230 across the betting market.
The Milwaukee Bucks come off a 125-123 shootout against the Brooklyn Nets in which they went over the total of 239.5 with relative ease. I’m not sure that will be the case here. Four out of the last five Bucks games have gone under the total. And, even though the Bucks have struggled defensively, we can expect defense to be a point of emphasis going forward.
The Lakers, on the other hand, rank 17th in pace (100.6) and have the league’s best defensive rating. And unsurprisingly, LA reports a 9-6 record to the under and a 6-1 under record on the road.
When it comes to this matchup, the Lakers simply do a solid job at defending the areas where the Bucks generate most of their points: The 3-point line and the rim. Moreover, Milwaukee’s defense can force the Lakers to generate offense from the perimeter. While the Lakers may be improved in that area, you’d certainly rather have the Lakers launching 3s as opposed to killing you down low with Davis and James.
As a whole, I think the market sees “Lakers vs. Bucks” and misprices these games based on the teams’ combined star power. In fact, both of last season’s games between the Bucks and Lakers finished under the game total.
The line for tonight’s matchup is set at 230. However, my projections make this game 227.5. Expect a slower-paced and lower-scoring game after the Bucks’ and Lakers’ shootouts on Monday. I’ll take the under 230 and would play this down to 228.
Pick: Under 230