Milwaukee Bucks NBA Bubble Restart
MILWAUKEE BUCKS (53-12, 1st place)
Where are they now: Huge expectations will greet the Milwaukee Bucks when they return to the court for the first time in four-plus months. The Bucks boast the NBA’s best record and one of its top players in Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is posting career highs with 29.6 points and 13.7 rebounds per game. But Antetokounmpo wants nothing more than a championship ring, and the NBA restart could provide his best chance yet.
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The Bucks will learn quickly whether the long time away has evened the playing field or whether they remain the conference’s most dominant team. Milwaukee will tip off against the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors during its first six games near Orlando, and those matchups could hint at the Bucks’ chances of capturing a title.
Expectations are nothing new to the Bucks this season, but can they handle the pressure in such unusual circumstances? “I don’t expect the first game or second game or third game, guys are going to be at 100 percent,” Antetokounmpo recently told reporters. “Guys are going to be rusty. … But I think as we move forward and guys get more comfortable, the level of basketball is going to get better each game.”
Milwaukee Bucks First Half Preview
The Bucks were a machine before the coronavirus pandemic sent everybody home. Milwaukee put together an 18-game winning streak, a nine-game winning streak and a six-game winning streak at various points during the season. Antetokounmpo (29.6 points per game) and Khris Middleton (21.1) led the team in scoring, while Eric Bledsoe (15.4) and Brook Lopez (11.0) also averaged in double digits.
The biggest hiccup for the Bucks came just before the shutdown. Milwaukee dropped its final three games against the Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets, marking its longest slump of the 2019-20 campaign. The latter two losses came without Antetokounmpo in the lineup, but he is rested and ready after the long delay.
Milwaukee Bucks NBA Bubble Roster Rundown and Playoff Outlook
Milwaukee is on track to tip off with a healthy roster. Bledsoe and Wesley Matthews are slated to start at guard, with Middleton and Antetokounmpo starting at forward and Lopez manning the middle. The Bucks’ bench includes capable players such as George Hill, Donte DiVincenzo, Kyle Korver and Robin Lopez.
Milwaukee Bucks Playoff Outlook: There is no doubt that the Bucks will be the team to watch in the Eastern Conference playoffs, while teams such as the Lakers draw the most attention out west. Anything short of an NBA Finals appearance will be a massive disappointment for Milwaukee and its fans. The first-place Bucks will open play with a 6 1/2-game lead over the second-place Raptors and a 9 1/2-game lead over the third-place Boston Celtics.
A first-round playoff matchup against an eighth seed such as the Orlando Magic or Brooklyn Nets should not put much of a challenge on Milwaukee, but the latter rounds will reveal whether the team can capture its first championship in franchise history.
This will be Mike Budenholzer’s second trip to the postseason as head coach of the Bucks. In his first season at the helm in 2018-19, the team won 60 games in the regular season but lost in the Eastern Conference finals to the Raptors. Milwaukee went 8-1 in its first nine playoff games, sweeping the Detroit Pistons in Round 1 and going 4-1 against the Celtics in Round 2, before Toronto bounced them in six games en route to a title.
Milwaukee Bucks NBA Bubble Best Bets
According to PointsBet, the Bucks (+250) are co-favorites along with the Lakers to win the NBA championship. The Los Angeles Clippers are not far behind at +300, while the Houston Rockets are fourth at +1200 and the Celtics are fifth at +1600. If you believe in Antetokounmpo — and why wouldn’t you? — then it seems like a worthy bet to take the odds on Milwaukee to win it all. Let the Western Conference teams beat each other up and hope for the Bucks to cruise into the NBA Finals without a significant amount of adversity.
Speaking of Antetokounmpo, he is a huge favorite to win NBA MVP honors at -5000, according to the Sugar House betting site. LeBron James is next with +1000 odds, and then it’s a huge jump to Anthony Davis and Luka Doncic at +10,000 apiece. The real question is whether Antetokounmpo will garner a team trophy to go with his individual prize.