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After a weak Tuesday, the NBA is back with a respectable 12-game slate for Wednesday. Below, I’ll handicap and give picks for the Bucks-Raptors, Hawks-Kings, and Heat-Lakers.
You can listen to the audio versions of these handicaps on my recently launched NBA Hoops At Lunch show on the OutKick Bets podcast feed.
Milwaukee Bucks (24-13) at Toronto Raptors (16-21)
I’m looking at the total in the first Bucks-Raptors game of the season.
Milwaukee beat the Washington Wizards 123-113 last night (Tuesday). The Bucks are 1-2 Over/Under (O/U) this season in the second of a back-to-back (B2B) with a -9.0 O/U margin.
Toronto has Milwaukee’s number in recent seasons and these meetings turn into defensive battles. Since 2019 (the year after Toronto won the NBA title), Bucks-Raptors are 2-7 O/U in their nine meetings with a -11.4 O/U margin.
Between forwards Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Scottie Barnes, Toronto has the size, athleticism, and length to give Giannis Antetokounmpo fits. And Raptors coach Nick Nurse is one of the best defensive masterminds in the NBA.
Milwaukee’s defense should be able to contain Toronto’s offense
The Bucks are second in non-garbage time defensive rating. While the Raptors are middle of the pack offensively, Toronto is just 29th in effective field goal shooting. Milwaukee is 3-7 O/U as road favorites with a -5.9 O/U margin, mostly due to their defense.
Toronto thrives off easy buckets i.e. points off of turnovers, fastbreak points allowed, and second-chance points. But, Milwaukee is the best defensive rebounding team in the NBA and has the third-best defensive efficiency in transition.
The Raptors have one of the worst offensive shot qualities in the league whereas the Bucks rank third in shot quality allowed, according to CleaningTheGlass.com (CTG).
On the other hand …
The Bucks aren’t clicking offensively
There are chemistry issues and unease in Milwaukee’s locker room, according to Bill Simmons on a recent self-titled podcast. This kinda explains the Bucks’ offensive woes.
Perhaps this is just the ebbs and flows of the NBA regular season. But, Milwaukee is 21st in non-garbage time offensive rating and the worst on the road, per CTG. The Bucks are 24th in both field goal and 3-point percentages.
Over the past two weeks, Milwaukee has the worst non-garbage time offensive rating in the NBA, per CTG. On paper, Milwaukee’s offense looked good Tuesday, scoring 123 vs. the Washington Wizards.
A major reason for that was Giannis erupting for 55 points himself. Again, I expect Nurse to have a good game plan for Giannis.
The Raptors can control the tempo with ball security
Toronto is third in offensive turnover rate (TOV%) and first in defensive TOV%. This will help the Raptors play at their pace, which is the fourth-slowest in the NBA.
Milwaukee has one of the best defenses in the league despite having the second-lowest defensive TOV% in the Association. There are going to be a ton of long, drawn out possessions with contested 2-pointers.
NBA Best Bet #1: UNDER 229 (-110) in Bucks-Raptors at DraftKings Sportsbook
Atlanta Hawks (17-20) at Sacramento Kings (20-16)
The Hawks won their first meeting with the Kings earlier this season 115-106 on Nov. 23. I like Sacramento to even the regular-season series with Atlanta partially because of …
The Kings are playing the second of a B2B after beating the Jazz 117-115 in Utah Tuesday. The Hawks last played Monday in a double overtime loss to the Golden State Warriors, 143-141.
Atlanta is 2-7 ATS when playing with a rest edge (-5.9 spread differential) and Sacramento is 5-1 ATS when playing at a rest disadvantage with a +5.3 spread differential.
It’s easy to see why the market continues to misread these teams in these spots.
The Hawks have been overrated by the market since their playoff run two years ago. The Kings like to speed up the tempo so bettors think they’ll be too gassed for a second of a B2B.
On top of that …
Both play at a fast pace but get different results
Sactown ranks third in pace and Atlanta ranks seventh. The Kings have an above-average shot quality. While the Hawks shoot a ton of inefficient mid-range shots and rank 28th in shot quality, per CTG.
Atlanta is 23rd in defensive efficiency in transition and Sacramento is sixth in fastbreak points per game (PPG). The Hawks on the other hand are 18th in fastbreak PPG.
Sactown’s juju is strong right now
Kings PG De’Aaron Fox and PG Domantas Sabonis are seemingly a good fit. Hand up: I thought both players sucked and I’m ready to eat crow for it.
I liked Fox coming out of college but he felt like a “good stats, bad team” player. I had a similar take on Sabonis.
Well, together, in Sacramento, while playing under a re-tread head coach in Mike Brown, Fox and Sabonis have found a groove.
Plus this is a revenge game for Kings SG Kevin Huerter who played last season in Atlanta. He was the odd man out once the Hawks acquired G Dejounte Murray and Huerter was shipped to Sactown.
Both Huerter and Fox sucked in the Hawks’ win over the Kings in Atlanta earlier this year. I’m expecting bounce-back games from both now that they face the Hawks in their home gym.
Also, the Kings have won three of their last four games by a combined four points. Some may say that’s lucky and perhaps it is.
But, I wanna back Sacramento’s positive momentum. Especially vs. a Hawks team that’s terrible in away games.
Atlanta’s struggles on the road
The Hawks are 6-12 SU and 6-11-1 ATS on the road with a -2.5 spread differential. On the road vs. Western Conference teams, Atlanta is 0-3 ATS this season with a -9.7 spread differential.
The Kings are better down the stretch in close games
Sacramento is 13-8 SU in the “clutch” with a +11.9 net rating. “Clutch” is defined by games within a 5-point margin inside five minutes to play. Atlanta is 7-10 SU with a -21.5 net rating in the “clutch”.
In a game between two identical teams with a short spread, gimme the team that’s better in tight games.
NBA Best Bet #2: Kings (-110) moneyline at DraftKings Sportsbook
Miami Heat (20-18) at Los Angeles Lakers (16-21)
If there is one team in the NBA that’s not going to feel sorry for the Lakers struggling and will want to put it on them in their home building, it’s Miami. The Lakers did beat them in the NBA Bubble Finals.
The Heat’s core three players from that NBA Finals team are still on the roster: SG Tyler Herro and All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. Neither Butler nor Adebayo is on Miami’s injury report.
Miami won three of four quarters vs. LAL in their first meeting last week. The Heat got up by as many as 22 points before taking their foot off the gas in the fourth quarter. Their 112-98 win over the Lakers was actually worse than the final score indicates.
Miami did and will control the flow vs. LAL
The Heat only committed four turnovers vs. the Lakers Wednesday and that type of ball security can be expected again Tuesday. Miami is sixth in offensive TOV% and LAL is dead last in defensive TOV%, per CTG.
Also, the media is enamored by LeBron James and showers him with praise for putting up empty numbers in his old age. To some degree that’s very impressive.
No one seems to notice or care when he throws a reckless turnover and doesn’t get back on defense. This isn’t going to fly with the Heat’s high TOV% and fifth-place ranking in points off of turnovers per game.
The bottom line is …
The Heat are a terrible matchup for the Lakers
Miami’s defense allows the fewest paint PPG in the NBA while allowing the fourth-fewest wide-open 3-point attempts. “Wide-open” 3s are defined by defenders being six feet or further away from the 3-point shooter.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is another defensive whiz. Miami’s seventh-ranked defense rating is based in large part on Spo’s X’s and O’s. It has to be considering all the players that have been in and out of the lineup for the Heat.
Lastly, the Lakers are 4-16-1 ATS vs. teams with a winning record.
NBA Best Bet #3: Heat -4 (-110) at DraftKings Sportsbook
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