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Now What? – New Orleans Pelicans

The young talent of the New Orleans Pelicans is undeniable, yet they can’t seem to put it together. Matt John explains why.

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Welcome back to Basketball Insiders’ Now What? Series. Previously, we went over the slowly rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers. Today we’re focusing on the young, energetic, and, for some reason, stagnant Pelicans. Two years ago, it seemed New Orleans had the ideal start on their rebuild. They had their face of the future, his second-in-command, their supporting cast, some savvy vets, etc. All the pieces were in place to move on from the Anthony Davis era without batting an eye.

Despite Zion Williamson looking absolutely for real and Brandon Ingram evolving into one of the league’s best young scorers, nothing has really changed for the Pelicans since 2019. They’re not among the league’s worst teams, but with all the young talent they have, it’s weird knowing that they have failed to qualify for the play-in when they seemingly have more than enough talent to get that far at the very least. Time is on their side. That’s inarguable, but something has clearly been off. So what’s up with the Pelicans?

Strengths

Supposedly, youth is wasted on the young. If so, New Orleans didn’t get the memo because they are armed to the teeth with youth. Even if it’s not translating to wins just yet, the Pelicans boast a youth movement that would excite any fanbase. That’s what makes it their biggest strength.

At the center of their biggest strength is Zion Williamson, and Zion’s biggest strength is, well, his strength for one, but also how he uses it along with his athleticism to dominate. Zion’s generational physique is what has made him a generational talent. Coming into this league known for your bulk is one thing. Knowing exactly how to use it is an entirely different matter. Even at 20 years old, Zion’s repertoire in the post has made him a force to be reckoned with not just for someone his age, not just in the entire league, but of all-time.

Zion is already putting up efficiency that levels around pure insanity. This season, he’s put up 61 percent shooting from the floor, and that includes the 69.6 percent he shoots in the zero to three-foot range according to Basketball-Reference. By all indications, he has the perfect blend of strength and athleticism that should make him the Pelicans’ new cornerstone (if he’s not that already). He’s so reliable as a post-scorer that in a modern NBA that emphasizes spacing, there shouldn’t be any pressure to expand his game when he already has his bread and butter.

And luckily, his partner-in-crime, Brandon Ingram can fill the spacing void. Ingram has turned into one of the league’s top young three-level scorers. He’s shooting at a blistering near-40 percent from distance over the past two seasons. He ranks in the 57th percentile for isolation scorers which isn’t phenomenal. However, considering Zion ranks 79th, the Pelicans already possess two iso scorers who are in their early 20’s. Their percentiles are more likely to go up from here.

They evidently headline the youth movement, but the Pelicans still have other intriguing talents. Nickeil Alexander-Walker was coming along nicely once the Pelicans started giving him more minutes from March onward. Jaxson Hayes may have turned the corner in May. Josh Hart is turning into a fine 3&D prospect (although the “3” in this context is a little suspect). Lonzo Ball would be included here, but no one really knows if he’s a long-term fixture as a Pelican, and his game-log to this day remains… unpredictable.

Things have not gone as smoothly as we anticipated in the beginning, but the future’s still bright for the Pelicans. With both their youth and the draft picks coming in, their future gives them an ultra-long leash.

Weaknesses

When you have arguably the most efficient 20-year-old post-scorer of all-time on your roster, along with a promising iso scorer next to him, and you’re not even coming close to the playoffs, something is definitely wrong.

In New Orleans’ defense, when they say it’s an 82-game season (usually), the Western Conference will always make every game count. There’s never been an exception to that. Still, having a young player as talented and NBA-ready as Zion would give you the inside track to one of the lower seeds, so where are the Pelicans going wrong?

Let’s start with their flaw that pretty much everyone saw coming – their shooting. Once they traded Jrue Holiday – who, until this season, was mostly okay from three – and JJ Redick – who was mostly out of commission anyway – the Pelicans’ shooting woes were as predictable as the Hamptons’ five’s dominance. Of all their players that played the majority of the season and shot threes regularly (at least one a game), only two shot over 35 percent (Ingram at 38.1 and Ball at 37.8). Everyone else shot under. Those percentages didn’t break the internet. Their lackluster defense on the other hand did.

The Pelicans did not boast a good defense last year – allowed 111.9 points per 100 possessions, 19th overall according to Basketball-Reference) – but they acquired Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams in the hopes of strengthening their defense, but neither did. If they had made no difference, then that would have been disappointing. But it didn’t. The defense got worse, allowing 113.8 points per 100 possessions, (22nd overall in the NBA according to Basketball-Reference) which was just infuriating. New Orleans’ defense actually got worse despite adding two players who have developed solid reputations as defenders is a mystery that may never be solved.

In hindsight, they should have traded for George Hill and Al Horford when they pulled off the Holiday megadeal instead of Bledsoe and Adams. Sure, Horford’s on one of the worst contracts in the NBA, but he would have fit better than those two did. Bottom line: if you can’t shoot and you can’t defend, that’s a recipe for complete disaster every time. Clearly, not even Zion Williamson is enough to overcome that.

Opportunities

Guess who is the biggest winner in all of the Lakers’ struggles this season? New Orleans. At least, potentially they are. LeBron James has never looked quite back to normal since spraining his ankle back in March. We’ve kept waiting for both him and Anthony Davis to get back to their bubble dominance from only seven months ago. They still haven’t gotten there. There’s still time to get their forms back, but Phoenix proved yesterday that they’ll need them back around, well, now-ish.

Even if they lose, Davis has plenty of his prime left, yes. But we know LeBron pretty much single-handedly vaults the Lakers up to contender status. Without him, the Lakers are basically the equivalent to the teams Davis anchored coincidentally in New Orleans. However, we also know that LeBron has continuously defied father time to the point where no one knows if a tipping point is even in the cards.

We might just have that with this ankle injury that’s still bothering him two months later. Now even if it ruins the Lakers’ season, there’s no guarantee it would carry on to the next one. But if it does, maybe this is the start of LeBron falling out of his prime. If you’re a good person, please don’t count on that. However, if that’s the harsh reality that is slowly bestowing itself upon us, then New Orleans’ rich future only gets richer. As of now, that’s all in the hypothetical.

The same thing goes for Milwaukee. They are a Giannis injury away from their season going up in flames. Who’s the beneficiary of their suffering? The Big Easy. It would require moving parts, but, as dissatisfying as the Pelicans have been, they’ve got some potentially golden assets that might just be now taking shape.

Because of what they have, no one should know that “it’s a marathon, not sprint” better than the Pelicans presently.

Threats

New Orleans may have a present threat and they may have a long-term threat.

With the season now over, it’s leaking out that there may have been some tension between players and new head coach Stan Van Gundy. That could be an issue. If the players and the coach aren’t getting along, regression is the likelier outcome than progression no matter what. Maybe it’s just a one-off given Van Gundy’s reputation as a coach. But as we’ve seen from Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams, just because you come in with a proven track record, that doesn’t mean that it will always translate in every situation.

They’ll probably give it another year seeing that this was a most unorthodox season for everyone. That will be an excuse for so long. If these alleged tensions were legitimate, and they don’t go away, the Pelicans may have to look for a new coach.

Then, there’s the fit of Zion and Ingram. Both of them are potential perennial all-stars. That’s not an easy task in the West. The problem is, does anyone know the right positions for these two to thrive together? Zion is a 6-foot-7′ tank that’s probably best as a Power Forward/Center. Ingram is a slender 6-foot-10 that would probably be best used mostly as Power Forward. They’ve put up shiny numbers. They haven’t proven they can win together.

As talented as they are, it is an odd pairing. Granted, it’s an odd pairing that any team would want to have. Still, they have to mix and match so that not only can these guys live up to their potential, and by extension, the team itself. Let’s be honest, the potential is so high that the ceiling as of now remains in ambiguity. That’s good and bad. Because, until they trend in the right direction, questions may arise surrounding those two.

We’re not there yet, but if New Orleans fails to make any progress next year, it might be something we can no longer ignore.

In all honesty, these young Pelicans seem very similar to the Milwaukee Bucks Pre-Budenholzer. The talent is certainly there but the pieces just aren’t meshing. Every so often, we’ve seen the talent show out, but it’s just not consistent. At this point, they just need the right pieces so that their star pupils can finally turn their numbers into something special.

After what their fans have been through over the last decade, putting out a great product on the basketball court is long overdue.

Matt John is a staff writer for Basketball Insiders. He is currently a Utah resident, but a Massachusetts native.

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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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