NBA picks: Bucks vs. Heat, Rockets vs. Lakers
Going into the 2020 NBA Playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers were favored to reach the NBA Finals. However, going into an exciting Friday night of Round 2 action, the two teams find themselves in very different situations.
Fri, September 4 2020, 10:40 PM
The Bucks entered the postseason playing average basketball, and after dropping Game 1 against the Orlando Magic proceeded to play like No. 1-seeds in winning four straight. I was on the wrong side of multiple games in that series, but have been fortunate in Games 1 and 2 of the second round while staying aboard the "fade Milwaukee" train. After losing their first two games as five-point favorites against the Miami Heat, the Bucks are once again installed as favorites in a crucial Game 3.
The Bucks are being placed as favorites on the work of their regular season and the reputation that comes with having reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the reality is they are facing a team that seems more cohesive at this point in the season. The Bucks rely on Giannis and Khris Middleton for points and points-creation, but too much of their work is predictable (Giannis) or noticeably difficult (Middleton). They lack consistent and efficient outside shooting, and the Heat and Head Coach Erik Spoelstra know it.
On the other side of the court, Heat guard Duncan Robinson is as good as any three-pointer shooter in the league, and veteran Goran Dragic is an incredible resource. Throw in Bam Adebayo’s bounce in the paint and Jimmy Butler’s work ethic, and it feels like the Bucks have to put in far more work chasing every corner of the floor to defend the Heat than vice versa. The Bucks very well may cover Game 3 out of pure necessity and greater intensity, but nothing about this matchup thus far indicates to me that the Bucks are five-points better than this Heat squad. The No. 1-seed is in serious trouble.
NBA pick: Heat +5.5
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Los Angeles Lakers
After winning an emotional seven-game series with a shocking defensive effort in the final minute, the Houston Rockets get to face the No. 1-seed in the West just two days later as 6-point underdogs. The only relief in store for them is they don’t have to travel, but otherwise they are in store for a handful of power coming through their defensive paint.
Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey has a deserved fascination with small-ball and analytics basketball. This is why he’s created an undersized team that likes to shoot threes, the most efficient shot on the court when you have good three-point shooters. The problem the Rockets face is it leaves them vulnerable on the defensive side of the court, and forces them to rely on those shots to fall.
The other problem, of course, is that their big offseason acquisition, Russell Westbrook, is quite literally one of the least efficient field goal shooters in the league. Of 53 NBA players who tried at least 500 jumpers this season, Westbrook ranked dead last. For all the athleticism and showmanship he brings to the court, he also brings unreliable egotism that sabotages his team’s offensive efficiency.
The Lakers have not been overly impressive to me in the reboot, but they have incredible size that the Rockets don’t look prepared to mitigate especially upon introduction to that size and without a game under their belt to learn how to combat it. Furthermore, the Rockets are 0-4 ATS in their last four games on just one day rest, and none of those were coming off a Game 7 emotional victory. Look for the favored Lakers to kick off the series with a forceful easy win.