It’s a double-header tonight in the NBA, with the first game happening in beautiful Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Bucks (11-3, 2nd East) host the struggling Portland Trail Blazers (5-10, 13th West) in a game that will feature a few NBA All-Stars going head-to-head. Here is a preview for Thursday’s game, along with odds and a free pick.
By the Numbers
We’ll start with the Bucks, who are playing at the league’s fastest pace. Milwaukee ranks fourth in field goal percentage shooting 47.4 percent as a team, and makes the fourth-most threes with 14. They’re among the league’s best in true shooting, effective field goal percentage, and overall offensive rating. But they don’t stop there, as the Bucks have a defensive rating of only 101.0, the third-best in the NBA.
The Trail Blazers also play at a decent pace, and actually do okay scoring the basketball as well. Despite ranking 25th with a 44.0 field goal percentage, Portland is top-10 in three-point percentage at 36.3 and free throw percentage with 81.1. However, they’re last in the league in assists and second-to-last in steals per game. The lack of steals play a role in the Blazers ranking just 19th in the NBA with a 110.8 defensive rating.
What to Watch
There is arguably no better player in the league right now than Giannis Antetokounmpo, also known as the “Greek Freak”. The reigning league MVP scored 33 points to go along with 11 rebounds on Wednesday in Milwaukee’s win versus the Hawks. Giannis has now dropped 30 or more points and 10-plus rebounds in eight of his last nine games and has 14 consecutive double-doubles to start the season. Portland will not be able to stop him, so the goal is to limit his effectiveness at least a little bit and force others like Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe to beat them instead.
The Trail Blazers would feel like they have an answer of their own if Damian Lillard was on the court tonight. However, the star guard is out with a back injury for the second game in a row. Lillard averages a team-high 28.6 points and 7.1 assists per game. With Anfernee Simmons and Hassan Whiteside also questionable, C.J. McCollum will be asked to shoulder the load for Portland. McCollum is averaging 21.3 points per game on 42.3 percent shooting and 36.1 percent from three. The 28-year old will need to step up in a big way tonight for the Blazers to have a chance against one of the league’s best teams.
McCollum isn’t all alone, however. Late last week, Portland signed Carmelo Anthony to a one-year deal. Anthony made his debut on Tuesday against the Pelicans, scoring 10 points in 24 minutes on 28.6 percent shooting. He also had five turnovers and was a -20 for the game, the worst on the team. We’ll see if Melo is able to give Portland more positive production tonight, especially in the absence of Lillard.
Odds and Pick
Considering the strength of the Bucks and the struggles of the Blazers, it’s no wonder that Milwaukee is a big favorite at home tonight, listed at -13. It seems like a no-brainer that the Bucks will win, so the main questions lie against the spread. In my opinion, Milwaukee’s pace and proclivity to shoot the ball a lot will be too much to handle for a shorthanded Portland squad tonight. While I think McCollum will get his points, tonight has the making of a blowout. I’ll take the Bucks -13 to begin their long home-stand with an easy win.