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NBA Daily: Nerlens Noel: Recruited And Rejuvenated

After a difficult start to his NBA career, Nerlens Noel is eager to turn the page and be a difference-maker with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

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To put it lightly, it’s been a less than idyllic start to Nerlens Noel’s career.

After enduring three-plus difficult years with the Philadelphia 76ers, Noel was unceremoniously deemed as surplus in the process and got traded to Dallas, where he’s dealt with injury and controversy since early 2017. But today, Noel isn’t worried about all that anymore. He’s now sharply focused on what’s ahead with the Oklahoma City Thunder — the franchise that courted the talented shot-blocker as soon as the clock struck midnight on July 1.

“I really think it’s a great opportunity,” Noel said during a Las Vegas Summer League scrum. “I think it’s a great fit for myself and the organization. With the athleticism and the pieces that they have now, I think I can really come and make a significant difference to the speed of the game.

“It’s really been a great last few days, going to OKC, signing and just feeling very welcome from the whole organization — that really means a lot.”

Punctuated by the all-important re-signing of marquee free agent Paul George, the Thunder have quietly put together an offseason worth buzzing about. The addition of Noel — plus Dennis Schröder and the subtraction of Carmelo Anthony — has the persistent Thunder right on the cusp of the conference’s elite conversation once again. While Noel made the slightly debatable decision last summer to take the qualifying offer over the Mavericks’ alleged contract worth four years and $70 million, he’s surely landed on his feet now.

From a hotdog-related benching and a late-season suspension to being chased down by two perennial All-Stars, Noel is more than satisfied with his new situation.

“[Westbrook and George] called the night of free agency when I was meeting with coach Billy [Donovan],” Noel said. “They told me, let’s get it done and that we want to do some special things this year. I definitely felt where they were coming from. I gave it a little thought and with as much love as they showed, it became an easy decision.”

The 6-foot-11 big man hasn’t played more than 60 games since 2015-16, but his two initial forays into professional basketball were worth writing home about. During his sophomore campaign with the 76ers, Noel averaged 11.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 1.5 blocks per game on 52.1 percent from the floor. And although Joel Embiid and, for a moment, Jahlil Okafor eventually won out in the Nerlens-defined “logjam,” Noel could provide the rim-protecting edge that the Thunder have missed since trading Serge Ibaka in 2016.

In 2017-18, Noel put up the worst numbers of his young career, tallying just 4.4 points and 5.6 rebounds over a paltry 15.7 minutes per game. Combined with surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb in December, Noel would miss 42 consecutive games and then struggle to rejoin head coach Rick Carlisle’s rotation. Of course, Noel is only 24 years old and still has loads of potential, particularly so when placed side-by-side with this set of future Hall of Famers.

Between his rookie season and today, Noel’s teams recorded a cumulative record of 56-108, a dismal winning percentage of 34.1. Additionally, that’s not even counting the entire campaign Noel lost after he was drafted in 2013-14 due to surgery — that year, the 76ers went 19-63.

Needless to say, Noel is just happy to be on a team with high expectations at long last.

“This is something I’ve been really wanting my whole life, just to be on a talented team that can really complement my skill set and really show what I’m really about and go out on the court and play my game with no hesitation,” Noel added. “Coach Billy has given me the utmost confidence since I’ve been talking to him day-by-day.

“Just go out there and play your game. There’s nothing in it besides basketball and just being yourself — I felt very accepted.”

The starting center position in Oklahoma City has been long inhabited by Steven Adams, so Noel will likely continue to come off the bench. But beyond the Thunder’s relatively thin frontcourt — the two centers are joined only by Patrick Patterson and the recently re-signed Jerami Grant — the current depth chart means that Noel will be paired frequently with the speedy services of Schröder.

Aside from Michael Carter-Williams (15 PPG, 7.4 APG) in 2014-15 for 41 games, Noel has rotated through a slew of mid-level point guards. Over his four NBA seasons, a staggering 78.6 percent of his field goal attempts were between 0-10 feet. Even more, his combined career percentage on shots from 10 feet and beyond comes in at just 27.4. Generally speaking, Noel will regularly profit when he’s aided by a guard that’ll best position him for high percentage shot attempts. T.J. McConnell, Yogi Ferrell — both of whom have carved out solid professional roles despite going undrafted — and Dennis Smith Jr. have shown that playmaking ability at times, but Schröder may be another beast altogether.

Schröder’s assist rate in 2017-18 was among the league’s best at 35.2 percent — a mark that only trailed Ben Simmons, Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, John Wall, J.J. Barea, LeBron James, James Harden and, naturally, Russell Westbrook. Even for an Atlanta Hawks team that ranked toward the bottom in most traditional categories, Schröder was an impactful game-changer more often than not — a factor that will definitely benefit Noel moving ahead.

Still, it’s not just the big names that Noel is eager to do battle alongside.

“It’s rejuvenating — I’ve been just working all summer trying to get my mind right for whatever situation I come into,” Noel said. “Thank God it’s the OKC Thunder. They got a great group of guys from Westbrook to PG leading the team to all these young guys out here — Hami [Diallo], from Kentucky, [Terrance] Ferguson — really some great pieces that can come up that they already have.

“It’s really a complete team that is really going to do some special things this year.”

In a Western Conference arms race that’s seen James move from Cleveland to Los Angeles, the Spurs cash out for a new superstar and DeMarcus Cousins join the virtually unbeatable juggernaut in Golden State, the Thunder’s offseason moves, albeit on a smaller scale, have flown under the radar. For a franchise that ranked first in blocks (9.1) and 11th in steals (5.0) per game, plus 10th in defensive rating (104.6), Noel should do nothing but bolster those strengths. On a two-year deal worth only the veteran minimum — Noel has a player option for 2019-20 — the center could easily become one of the NBA’s best bargains this season.

Ultimately, this is still a case of a player betting on himself — for Noel, it’s certainly not the first time he’s been willing to do that either. But after four seasons of extreme highs and lows, Noel is ready to make up for all that lost time — and with Oklahoma City, he’s in the perfect situation to do so.

Ben Nadeau is a Seattle-based writer in his third year with Basketball Insiders. For five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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NBA Daily: Milwaukee Bucks Face Unique Situation

Despite a successful season, Tristan Tucker looks at why the Milwaukee Bucks face uncertainty regarding their future.

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Despite beating the dominant Brooklyn Nets in seven games, the Milwaukee Bucks face more uncertainty about their future than any other team in the playoffs. Last season, the Bucks accrued a 56-17 record that was good for best in the league. However, the team disappointed and saw a second-round exit at the hands of the Miami HEAT.

After that disappointing finish to a season that many believed would lead to an NBA Championship, the Bucks faced many criticisms. In response, Milwaukee rushed to fix many of those issues. Eric Bledsoe and a boatload of first-round picks were traded to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for defensive stalwart Jrue Holiday. The team then swapped out its bench rotation, filling it out with players like P.J. Tucker, Bobby Portis and Bryn Forbes. The Bucks even got older rookies Sam Merrill and Mamadi Diakite to play quick spot minutes.

But Milwaukee’s biggest criticism was one that was left unresolved: the coaching situation. Head coach Mike Budenholzer is a two-time NBA Coach of the Year winner. Budenholzer first won the award after getting the Atlanta Hawks over 60 wins in 2014-15. Then, he did it again with the Bucks two years ago. Despite his metal, Budenholzer’s rotation decisions were met with criticism and confusion during the heartbreaking loss to Miami in 2020. Many fans around the league noticed that many stars were playing well over 40 minutes in big games and never played less than 36. Meanwhile, Milwaukee’s big names sat for extended periods of time.

For reference, Anthony Davis and LeBron James for the Los Angeles Lakers played over 36 minutes per game in the playoffs last season. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo did the same for the HEAT. Both of those teams moved on to the Finals. On the other hand, Khris Middleton led the team with 35.5 minutes per game in the playoffs while Giannis Antetokounmpo played just 30.8 minutes a night.

Despite this, Milwaukee’s brain trust kept Budenholzer into the 2020-21 season. And so far, that seems like the right decision. The Bucks came back in a big way in the playoffs, being the only team to sweep another team, Miami, in the first round. Then, the Bucks battled back into the series against the Nets, evening the series twice after falling back the same number of times before eventually overcoming the then-title favorites. The team is now matched up with the scorching-hot Hawks and has gone down 1-0 in the series.

All seems to be going relatively well for the Bucks despite the current series. Budenholzer seems to have learned his lesson, his stars are all playing over 37 minutes per game. In fact, the whole rotation seems to be clicking.

Middleton in particular put together the best postseason performance of his career in Game 6 against the Nets. The former All-Star ended that contest with 38 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals, missing just five of his 16 shots. This isn’t new for Middleton, who is the face of consistency in the league. Outside of an injury-marred 2016-17 season, Middleton has averaged around 20 points per game for almost six straight years.

In each of the last two seasons, Middleton came within inches of securing a 50/40/90 season. Both seasons have seen a respectable amount of attempts from deep and the charity stripe. Middleton even became the go-to guy on offense for the Bucks. Just watch his and his teammates’ confidence in him as he buried a four-point play to ice Game 6 against Brooklyn:

It isn’t just Middleton. Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing more aggressively as of late, securing 30 points on 20 field goal attempts in Game 6 against the Nets. “The Greek Freak” followed that performance up with a 40-point showing to clinch that series, officially avenging last year. In Milwaukee’s Game 1 loss to Atlanta, Antetokounmpo put up 34 points, 12 rebounds and 9 assists in 41 minutes.

Holiday hasn’t had the best playoff stint of his career, but there’s no denying how absurdly better the team’s perimeter defense is with Holiday substituting for Bledsoe and George Hill. The team’s faith in Holiday paid off with a 33-point, 10-assist showing that saw the middle Holiday brother connect on five 3-pointers.

Some of the most notable changes came from Milwaukee’s bench. Forbes and Portis in particular took the next step as players this year. Both players took one-year bets on themselves in the offseason that are sure to result in paydays this summer. Portis and Forbes ranked third and fourth in the regular season in three-point percentage, respectively. Forbes in particular became notorious for how he torched the HEAT in the first round from deep.

And yet, despite the positives, the Bucks still face one of the biggest crossroads of any team in the playoffs. And it all depends on how deep this team can go.

Despite beating the Nets, Budenholzer is still on the hot seat. While Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that the series win over Brooklyn will go a long way in determining Budenholzer’s future, the two-time Coach of the Year still hasn’t made the Finals as a head coach. If Budenholzer and the Bucks lose to the Hawks, who they are much better than on paper, it could have a ripple effect on the franchise. In fact, several reports indicate that the team is already looking at potential replacements if things go south.

It’s an odd turnaround for a team that is experiencing the high of knocking off the title favorites. Middleton had a poor Game 1, and the team likely doesn’t lose that game if he is clicking. But Budenholzer’s questionable rotation decisions still plagued the team, with seldom-used Jeff Teague seeing six critical minutes against Trae Young.

Firing a head coach especially one as successful as Budenholzer has been in the regular season is no small task. The move would likely come with several other staff and roster changes.

Despite how great Portis and Forbes have been for the team, it’s unlikely Milwaukee can afford either moving forward. Portis and Forbes both have player options for next season, Portis at $3.8 million and Forbes at $2.4 million. There’s no way either remains on the Bucks at that price with a weak free-agent class on the horizon. And unfortunately, the Bucks don’t have the money to re-sign either to a huge number.

That path would lead to the team being extremely aggressive with what money and assets it does have. The team reportedly agreed to trade Donte DiVincenzo — who is now out with injury — for Bogdan Bogdanovic in a sign-and-trade before Bogdanovic refused to be traded there. Other players like Brook Lopez and Pat Connaughton have tradeable salaries and could help bring in another impact player.

If the Bucks went the distance, Budenholzer would most likely stay and the franchise would avoid a culture reset. Forbes and Portis probably still depart, but other free agents like Tucker would likely be more inclined to re-sign for a smaller salary.

In that case, the team would be more inclined to sit back and watch internal growth. Players like Jordan Nwora, Merrill or Diakite could fill the holes left by potential Forbes or Portis departures. That isn’t to say the team wouldn’t be aggressive, but there isn’t a team left in the playoffs that would see such a huge change if they were eliminated. 

Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns was a Coach of the Year finalist. The Suns have the assets for internal and external growth if eliminated. The Hawks vastly improved from the last season, and have a direct pathway to getting better through guys like De’Andre Hunter and Onyeka Okongwu. And the Los Angeles Clippers will likely retain Tyronn Lue and Kawhi Leonard this offseason, even if things go awry.

Unfortunately for Budenholzer, this is a unique situation. There haven’t been many do-or-die cases involving jobs this deep into the playoffs involving contenders. For Budenholzer, winning the title secures his job. If he fails to do so, it could spell the end of his Milwaukee tenure.

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Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Clippers Game 3 predictions, picks and betting tips: Bet Home Court Dogs on Friday Night

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Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals takes place at 9pm ET on Friday. Our experts have made their predictions and betting picks for the Clippers vs Suns at the Staples Center.

Register an account with Bovada and bet on the 2021 NBA Finals with a $750 Free Bet.

Cynics will tell you that L.A. is a city of a million shattered dreams, and if Deandre Ayton’s last second alleyoop slam-dunk is anything to go by, those cynics aren’t exactly wrong.

The Phoenix Suns marched into a 2-0 series lead vs. the Clippers as a result of Ayton’s heroics. The 104-103 victory meant Monty Williams team now takes a firm grasp of the Western Conference finals.

Despite being down 2-0 in the series, it appears the average American bettor hasn’t given up hope on the Clippers staging part one of a comeback in game 3. Indeed, why would they? We’ve seen way over 400 teams return from a 2-0 deficit in the playoffs over the years. Plus, if Paul George (26 pts in Game 2) decides to wage war again, the Clippers do have half a chance, even without Leonard…

Besides, why wouldn’t you place a couple wagers on a mild underdog on the NBA betting lines?

All odds from Bovada Sportsbook. New customers get $750 free to bet on Suns @ Clippers

Western Conference Finals – Game 3: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Phoenix Suns Moneyline Odds 

Phoenix Suns: -115

Los Angeles Clippers: -107

Western Conference Finals – Game 3 Los Angeles Clippers vs. Phoenix Suns Spread (DraftKings NBA Playoff Odds)

Phoenix Suns -1

Los Angeles Clippers -1

Los Angeles Clippers Preview

Other than the pain of a last second defeat, the big news coming out of the Clippers camp remains the fact that the team’s best player, Kawhi Leonard, is still out injured.

Leonard had averaged over 30.0 points per game during the playoffs until going down with a knee injury towards the end of Game 4 vs. Utah in the last round. The current prognosis is not good – he will almost certainly miss out again.

There is series-hope for Clippers fans in the form of SG Paul George, who himself is averaging 26.6 points per game in the postseason; not to mention the fact that L.A. has twice before returned from a 2-0 deficit in the playoffs. But they have to get something going in Game 3 – no team has ever returned from 3-0 down in NBA playoff history.

Nevertheless, what hope is left is dangling by a thread at present. Up against a full-strength Phoenix team that’s riding high on the confidence of a last-minute win, it’s going to be tough evening’s work for George, Jackson and co. come Thursday night.

That said, L.A. does have home-court advantage and di just lose by the 1 point. So, it’s little surprise the two teams have been given similar odds – Game 3 is anyone’s game.

Phoenix Suns Preview

The Suns did what they needed to do, took advantage of being at home for games 1 and 2 and now take a lead to LA. Game 2 was on a knife edge throughout, so they’re not as dominant over the Clippers as some may have thought, but the 2-0 lead is huge. As mentioned above, they’ll be hoping that Leonard can’t make it to the court on Thursday night, but even if he does, they can rely upon the likes of Devin Booker, Cameron Payne and game 2 hero Deandre Ayton to stifle the Clippers. They’ve now won 9 straight in the playoffs and they’ll take some stopping to make it 10.

Chris Paul is expected back from a stint on COVID protocol soon. But Game 3 might come too early. Expect Paul to miss out again.

Other than that, the Suns are surely shining bright en route to Los Angeles following Ayton’s heroics in the previous clash. The Clippers have caused them problems throughout the first two games, but the Suns seem to have that little bit extra in the tank: more guile; more nous, and, even if Leonard could take to the court with the Clippers, – arguably – more talent.

Devin Booker has been in superb form in the series thus far, putting up 40 points over the course of the first two contests – look for him on the player prop market.

Overall, there’s a reason the Suns have been made favorites by the NBA oddsmakers, and there’s no reason to expect anything other than a continuation of the their dominance in Game 3…

Western Conference Finals – Game 3: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Phoenix Suns Prediction

We’ve spent all this time waxing lyrical about Phoenix, but the Clippers deserve a result. They have pulled out all the stops in the absence of Leonard and, in our humble opinion, eventually hard work pays off.

We are vouching for the homecourt underdogs on the moneyline: Clippers to win at -107

Register an account with Bovada and bet on the 2021 NBA Finals with a $750 Free Bet.

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NBA Finals Betting Odds : 2021 NBA Championship Odds Update as Conference Finals Continue

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The 2021 NBA Conference Finals are now underway and so look at the updated Championships odds for the Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers.

Register an account with Bovada and bet on the 2021 NBA Finals with a $750 Free Bet.

Few expected to see the Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks L.A. Clippers, and Phoenix Suns make up the final four of the NBA Championship Playoffs. But each team has made it this far on merit, and the performances don’t lie – the cream always rises to the top.

In the Western Conference Final, DeAndre Ayton broke Clippers hearts last night when, with 0.5 seconds remaining in the fourth, he came up trumps with a sublime alleyoop dunk. Those 2 points put the Suns 104-103 ahead, as they took a commanding 2-0 lead in the series.

The Hawks are all set to travel to the Bucks for the first game of the Eastern Conference finals tonight, in a game that will see two of the NBA’s finest talents, Atlanta G Trae Young and Milwaukee PF Giannis Antetokounmpo come face to face.

2021 NBA Championship Odds

With games coming thick and fast and players bouncing into and out of form and IR in this year’s epic conference finals, it’s about time to check in and see what the sportsbooks make of all the action, as we take a look at the 2021 NBA odds for the 2021 national championship.

Clippers NBA Championship Odds Continue to Dwindle Without Kawhi Leonard

It’s hard not to feel bad for Clippers fans: without their superb small forward Kawhi Leonard, and the 25 points per game he tends to put up, life was always going to be tough vs. the Phoenix, even without the Suns having their electrifying playmaker Chris Paul out on court. And so, it has proven.

After that tough final second loss, the Clippers have seen their odds drop from +440 at the start of the playoffs to between +1500 (FanDuel). If they lose again on Thursday (June 24), expect to see the odds reach into the +infinity category, since no NBA team has EVER come back from 3-0 down in the playoffs.

Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue must now be thinking about just wheeling Kawhi Leonard out there in a wheelchair for one final assault. But don’t write his team off just yet: L.A came within 1point and they did that without their best player – there’s still a chance; they make it through and we’ll find out for sure come Thursday.

Los Angeles Clippers NBA Finals Odds: +1500 – Click HERE to bet with Bovada Online

Suns’ Odds to win NBA Championship Continue to Rise

The bad news for the Clippers is that Chris Paul is expected to be back in action for the Suns quickly. The diminutive playmaker broke COVID protocol, which was stupid, but did get himself vaccinated beforehand (not so stupid) and will be available sooner rather than later as a result.

Plus, Devin Booker more than carried the mantle in Paul’s absence during last night’s second meet. Booker put up 40 points in total as the Suns asserted their dominance.

It’s the strength in depth and the team’s ability to hurt its opposition all over the court that has seen the odds on the Suns continue to shorten. Monty Williams’ team began the playoffs as massive outsiders at +2500. But their odds are now just +115.

Phoenix Suns NBA Finals Odds: +115 – Click HERE to bet with Bovada Online

NBA Betting Lines not Favoring the Hawks

Atlanta’s incredible 4-3 series defeat of the Philadelphia 76ers is the stuff of legend and the Hawks deserve a tremendous amount of credit for pulling that result out of the bag; even if the 76ers were missing Joel Emblid for a few games.

Enough about that though. With players like G Trae Young to boast among the ranks, you’d give the Hawks a chance against anyone, including vs. the Bucks this evening.

That said, Milwaukee is a big ask for Nate McMillan’s team. During the regular season, the Bucks posted the highest field goal accuracy (91.8), the 2nd most rebounds per game, and the 5th most 3-pointers per game – they are a team that can punish you if given just half-a-chance.

Sorry Atlanta fans. But it seems likely to us that the McMillan Cinderella story ends here.

Then again… we’ve been wrong before and at +1300, it’s worth a Hail Mary for sure!

Atlanta Hawks’ NBA Finals Odds: +1300 – Click HERE to bet with Bovada Online

The Bucks are the Betting Favorites to be NBA Champions

The Bucks began the playoffs with NBA Vegas odds of +800 on the moneyline. If you are one of the lucky ones who picked them up on those odds, hold tight: you’re looking good right now; Milwaukee fans are dreaming of being NBA Champions for the first time in 50 years.

Greek sensation Giannis Antetokounmpo has been on fire throughout the Bucks’ postseason run, putting up 30 points in six games thus far! With Middleton and Brook Lopez, in particular, among the supporting cast, the Bucks offense puts up big numbers and rarely turns the ball over without something to show for it.

It’s not that the Hawks don’t have playmakers of their own – they do. But defensively, they don’t touch this Bucks team that features both Jrue Holiday (DPOY) and Antekounmpo (2X DPOY). That’s why the odds are so short on Milwaukee and so long on Atlanta – the sportsbooks don’t fancy the Hawks to score enough.

Milwaukee Bucks’ NBA Finals Odds: +105 – Click HERE to bet with Bovada Online

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