NBA Playoffs Odds, Picks, Predictions: 4 Best Bets for Bucks vs. Heat, Nuggets vs. Trail Blazers (Thursday, May 27)
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers.
- Our NBA staff is targeting two games from tonight's NBA Playoffs Game 3 matchups: Bucks vs. Heat and Nuggets vs. Trail Blazers.
- Raheem Palmer and Joe Dellera are each backing Milwaukee to go up 3-0 vs. Miami. Kenny Ducey and Brandon Anderson are also united in their support for the Portland Trail Blazers.
- Check out each analyst's full betting breakdown below, which includes odds, picks, predictions, tipoff times and more for Thursday's NBA Playoffs action.
Thursday marks Game 3 for each first-round series in the 2021 NBA Playoffs. The Milwaukee Bucks have jumped out to a secure 2-0 lead against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Western Conference series between the Suns and Lakers is tied up at 1-1, and the Nuggets-Trail Blazers are also tied with one win apiece.
Our NBA betting analysts dissected Thursday’s NBA slate to deliver their top-four best bets of the night, including two picks each for Bucks-Heat and Nuggets-Blazers. Read on for a full breakdown for all four of Thursday’s NBA best bets.
NBA Odds & Picks
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Miami Heat
Raheem Palmer: I haven’t believed in this Miami Heat team all year long. Blame it on the hangover from the bubble, shooting regression or the absence of Jae Crowder, but this isn’t the same team from last year.
Unlike the Los Angeles Clippers, the Milwaukee Bucks didn’t tank for a more favorable matchup. Instead, the Bucks chose not to upset the basketball God and let the chips fall where the universe placed them. The result is a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Miami Heat.
The Bucks aren’t afraid of this Heat team and two. Furthermore, through two games in this series, it is already clear that the Bucks are superior. They won Game 1 despite shooting 5-of-31 (16.1%) from behind the arc. Then in Game 2, we witnessed Milwaukee’s ceiling in its 132-98 win vs. Miami: The team delivered an all-time great shooting performance by shooting 22-of-53 (41.5%) from the 3-point line.
The Bucks won’t always make 41.5% of their 3s, but it’s clear that they can win with their defense, which has held Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo to a combined 17-of-61 from the field throughout the first two games of this series. The three-headed monster of Giannis Antetotkoumpo, P.J. Tucker and Jrue Holiday has essentially put Butler in a straitjacket. For a team that has struggled to score this season, there aren’t many answers.
I expect the Heat to put up a prime effort down 0-2, but the Bucks will eventually take control of this game and up go up 3-0 in this series, moving one step closer to ending this series and avenging last year’s loss in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Miami Heat
Joe Dellera: The Bucks look to take a commanding 3-0 series lead against the Miami Heat. I understand that Miami is now the home team, but I think this line is still too short.
The Bucks have held the Heat to under 100 points in regulation in both games. Milwaukee’s defense is stout, and if Miami had not had a 45-point differential from 3-point range in Game 1, that game would have been a blowout as well.
Miami is hoisting up 3-point attempts on 39.7% of its possessions (around its season average, per Cleaning the Glass), but it has been unable to attack the rim. Much of this has to do with Bam Adebayo’s hesitancy on offense: He has scored 9 and 16 points, respective, in each game of the series. This has lead Miami to a 46.9% effective field goal percentage (eFG%) — a sharp contrast from its season-long mark of 54.7%.
The Bucks just look better. They are dominating this Miami team, and they still managed to win Game 1, which was a game they should have lost. This is not last year’s Heat. Tyler Herro and Goran Dragic are not playing at the same level, and they’ve been unable to turn their 3-point shooting into a significant advantage due to the Bucks’ perimeter defense.
I’ll back Milwaukee as a short road favorite to keep the pressure on and win Game 3.
Denver Nuggets vs. Portland Trail Blazers
Kenny Ducey: It’s always dangerous to bet on the Trail Blazers at home, where they were 15-21 against the spread this season, but I’m expecting a big bounce back after a deflating Game 2 loss.
Believe it or not, Portland decided to play some defense down the stretch in May, posting the league’s 14th-best defensive efficiency rating over the final 15 games of the regular season. While that doesn’t sound great, it’s nonetheless a huge step for a team that ranked in the bottom five of the NBA. Furthermore, that defensive improvement is especially encouraging for a team with one of the top offenses in the NBA.
With that in mind, there’s reason for me to believe that Denver won’t shoot 53.5% from the field again. If these shooting numbers normalize, the Blazers should have the edge here. Portland boasts a slightly better offensive attack and a front court that just out-rebounded Denver in the Game 2 loss. In fact, the Blazers won that rebounding battle despite Jusuf Nurkic being mired in foul trouble all game long.
With Nurkic presumably playing more in Game 3, Portland should be able to combat Nikola Jokicmore effectively to tip the scales. Thursday’s game could be the one when the Nuggets feel the loss of Jamal Murray — and begin to feel the series slip away.
Denver Nuggets vs. Portland Trail Blazers
Brandon Anderson: What have we really learned through two games of this series? Perhaps not a ton.
In Game 1, we saw that the Blazers simply had more firepower. If it wasn’t Damian Lillard, then it was CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic. If it wasn’t those two, it was Anfernee Simons and Carmelo Anthony each hitting four 3s off the bench. The poor Nuggets were simply outgunned, and we knew that would be the case going in for a team whose entire guard rotation had turned into a MAS*H unit. It’s hard to win without good NBA guards in 2021.
In Game 2, that didn’t change, but neither did the fact that Portland’s defense is abysmal. The Blazers have little chance of stopping any opponent — even one without good guards — and it’s not like MVP-elect Nikola Jokic is chopped liver. Jokic has had a big scoring series, and Portland’s defense is there for the taking, as it always is. The Nuggets scored well in Game 1 too — just not well enough, when the Blazers were on fire.
And so we’re back to where we started — two teams here on the basis of their offense without many answers defensively, which brings us back to firepower. If we’re going to get offensive shootouts, then it makes sense to bet on the side with the better artillery, and that’s Portland by a sizable margin right now.
The Nuggets stymied the Blazers in the second half of Game 2 by putting Aaron Gordon on Damian Lillard, but Portland will have an answer to that in Game 3. The Blazers will also be playing at home — a significant swing advantage considering Denver’s elevation and the typically raucous Blazers crowds.
There’s one other hidden factor at play here: The Nuggets appear to be getting Will Barton back any day now. He won’t play tonight, but he draws this series much closer to even when he returns, maybe as early as Game 4. That makes this game sneaky “must-win” for Portland, who must not cede control of a series it really ought to win.
I’ll trust the Blazers to find answers and get the win. In a game with this much offense, the 3.5-point spread means very little. I’ll take Portland to cover and play to -4.5.