NBA 8/31 betting preview. Round 2 and more

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Monday’s NBA slate only features two games, but they should be good ones.

It starts with the Bucks vs. the Heat, who will kick off their second-round series in the Eastern Conference. The Heat are coming off a sweep vs. the Pacers in the first round, while the Bucks won four straight games by double-digits after dropping their first game vs. the Magic.

The nightcap is Game 6 between the Rockets and Thunder. The Rockets will be looking to punch their ticket to the second round after a dominant performance in Game 5, while the Thunder will be looking to fight back and force a decisive Game 7.

Let’s break down both contests to try and identify some betting value.

Milwaukee Bucks (-5.5) vs. Miami Heat — 223.5 total

Series Price: Bucks -500/Heat +360

Both of these teams were impressive in the first round, but neither was really presented with much of a challenge. The Bucks dismantled the Magic after a brief hiccup in Game 1, while the Heat steamrolled the shorthanded Pacers. This will obviously be a much tougher test for both teams.

The Bucks enter the series as moderate favorites, and deservedly so. They were the best team in basketball during the regular season, ranking first in Net Rating and winning percentage. They have the likely MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in Giannis Antetokounmpo, and they outscored opponents by +18.8 points per 100 possessions with their starting lineup on the court this season.

They are built on the back of a dominant yet unconventional defense. They protect the rim at all costs, ranking first in the league in terms of frequency of shots allowed at the rim per Cleaning the Glass. They are also excellent at defending those shots, ranking first in opponent accuracy as well. That allowed them to finish the year first in effective FG% (eFG) on defense.

That said, protecting the rim that aggressively does have a price. The Bucks allowed the third-highest frequency of 3-pointers this season, including the highest frequency of non-corner 3’s. That trade off obviously worked during the regular season, but it does leave them vulnerable against teams that can shoot the ball well.

With that in mind, the Heat are a disastrous matchup for them. Their offense is based around the 3-ball, and they are excellent at making them. They ranked second in the league in 3-point shooting percentage this season, including first in non-corner 3’s. Basically, their biggest strength plays right into the Bucks biggest weakness.

We saw that play out in their three regular season matchups. The Heat won two of three games, and they averaged 18.3 made 3-pointers in those contests. Miami was the only Eastern Conference team to actually post a winning record against Milwaukee this season.

The Heat should also be a more prolific 3-point shooting team in the playoffs given their decision to bench Kendrick Nunn. Nunn had an excellent rookie season — he was a finalist for the Rookie of the Year award — but he is simply an average 3-point shooter. Goran Dragic has replaced him in the starting lineup in each of their first four playoff games, and he shot 41.4% from downtown in those contests.

This is definitely not going to be a cakewalk for the Bucks, but can the Heat actually pull off the upset? A lot of “experts” think so, but I’m not convinced. The 3-ball definitely gives the Heat a puncher’s chance, but it’s not like their defense matches up great with the Bucks’ offense either. They allowed the fifth-highest frequency of shots at the rim during the first round of the playoffs, and that could spell disaster against Giannis. He lives at the rim, which is a big reason why the Bucks were first in the league in shooting percentage from that location. I’m ultimately going to pass on any series bets for this matchup, but I definitely expect the Bucks to advance.

Milwaukee isn’t getting a ton of love in Game 1 of this matchup either. They’re current garnering just 39% of the spread bets, which is pretty uncommon for a favorite. The public usually loves targeting the “better” team, so they are definitely buying the Heat as legitimate threats.

That qualifies the Bucks for a nice postseason trend. Historically, favorites who have received less than 50% of the spread wagers have posted a record of 246-210-14, which is good for a return on investment of +4.9%. If we look at favorites who have received less than 40% of the spread wagers, the ROI increases to +18.3%.

With that in mind, I have no problem fading the public and targeting the Bucks in Game 1.

The Pick: Bucks -5.5

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Houston Rockets (-5.5) — 225.5 total

The big news in this series was Russell Westbrook returning to the Rockets’ lineup in Game 5. He missed each of the first four games of this series with a quad injury, but he started and played 24 minutes in his last game. He wasn’t particularly effective, shooting just 3-13 from the field, but he was always expected to be a bit rusty.

His performance didn’t stop the Rockets from blowing the doors of the Thunder either. They cruised to a 24-point victory, thanks in part to a +19 scoring advantage during the third quarter. Dennis Schroder getting tossed certainly didn’t help the Thunder — he was their best player during the first half — but the game was well in hand before that happened.

The Thunder are stuck between a rock and a hard place in this matchup. They need Lu Dort on the court to try and slow down James Harden, but Dort was an absolute dumpster-fire offensively in Game 5. The Rockets sagged way off him and basically dared him to shoot every time he touched it, and Dort finished just 3-16 from the field. That basically erases any contributions he makes on the defensive end.

That is the problem with playing the Rockets. They make you do weird things that other teams don’t. The Thunder have been absolutely dominant with their best five-man combination on the court this season — Chris Paul, Schroder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams — but they have not been able to rely on that lineup much in this series. Adams has played less than 26.3 minutes in the past two games because the Thunder don’t think they can play a lineup with a traditional big man in this matchup.

Unless things change from a lineup perspective, it looks like the Thunder’s hopes in this series are going to come down to whether or not Dort can make some wide-open shots in Game 6. Consider me skeptical. He shot just 29.7% from 3-point range during the regular season, including just 35.4% on “wide open” 3-pointers per NBA.com.

There has been some reverse line movement and steam movements tracked on the Thunder in this contest, but I just can’t see them winning. I’m ultimately going to stay away, but it wouldn’t shock me if Houston won this game in convincing fashion once again.

The Pick: Pass

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