The Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns share a few things in common — a couple of them unsavory. They both participated in the NBA Finals last year and entered the playoffs as favorites to meet there again. Unfortunately, they've both seen All-Star players get knocked out of Game 2 losses with injuries that'll likely take multiple weeks to heal.
It already felt like this postseason was wide-open to some degree. Now that Milwaukee's Khris Middleton is out with a sprained MCL and the Suns' Devin Booker is dealing with a Grade 1 hamstring strain, that's even more so the case.
Bear those factors in mind as we prepare for Friday's NBA playoff betting preview, as both squads head on the road with a heavy dose of early adversity.
Hawks must maintain home hot streak to avoid 0-3 hole
Heat at Hawks (Game 3), 7 p.m. ET on ESPN
Atlanta is dealing with a key injury of its own to center Clint Capela, who went down in the play-in phase. His presence would've worked wonders against Miami, who likes to play a smaller lineup for the most part with Bam Adebayo at center. Adebayo is dealing with a nagging quadriceps injury and played just 24 minutes in Game 2's win.
I could still see the Hawks (+105) making this a series with a victory tonight. They've been ridiculous at home of late, with a 20-3 SU record. In the "correct series score" prop section on Barstool Sportsbook, you can still get Miami to win 4-1 at +150. That's no disrespect to the Heat — it's more just a numbers game given how great Atlanta has been in its own house.
Just don't pick the hosts at +1.5. They have failed to cover a spread in a loss this entire season. That seems mathematically impossible, yet it's true. I'm not above plugging my own work.
Having said all this, I feel like Miami was slept on a little too much throughout this entire season. Coach Erik Spoelstra did yet another masterful job juggling the rotation even as significant players missed time with injuries. The Heat had a letdown after their run to the NBA Finals in the bubble. Remember that it was such a short turnaround to the next season. You can see why they petered out down the stretch and got swept by the Bucks in Round 1.
This time around, the Heat have something to prove, and Jimmy Butler (OU 24.5 points) took matters into his own hands with 45 points in Tuesday's 115-105 win. Butler's sudden discovery of a 3-point shot is analogous to the part in Happy Gilmore where the eponymous character learns how to putt.
Jimmy Buckets is an entirely more dangerous player when his perimeter shot is on, and after some dreadful form from beyond the arc through most of the 2021-22 campaign, he's low-key gone 15-for-33 over his last 10 starts.
So yeah, Trae Young (OU 27.5 points) needs to get his act together for Atlanta to have any chance. The regular-season leader in points and assists is shooting 34.4% from the field and 11.8% from deep through two games, averaging 16.5 points, 5.5 assists and EIGHT TURNOVERS. The giveaway margin is where the Hawks should be making up some of the difference against Miami. They were the least turnover-prone team in the league, whereas the Heat ranked 28th in that category.
One more trend: The Under (222 at -113) is 15-5 in the Heat's past 20 first-round postseason contests.
Bulls aim to capitalize on wounded Deer
Bucks at Bulls (Game 3), 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC
We know the key personnel factor for the Bucks with Middleton out. According to StatMuse, they went 7-9 when he didn't play this season. Middleton's absence is going to significantly hamper their ability to guard DeMar DeRozan (OU 29.5 points), who went off for 41 in Game 2's stunner. DeRozan had a run of eight straight games where he had 35+ points on 50% shooting or better.
Chicago (+118) is essentially back from the dead. They looked bad for much of the time following the All-Star break and still are without Lonzo Ball. Everyone is stepping up, though. Between DeRozan, Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, Patrick Williams and Alex Caruso, they have some dudes.
Jrue Holiday is going to be tasked with shutting down DeRozan for the most part I would imagine. Holiday's impact on defense can't be overstated. Just look at how well he fared against all the Bulls' stars in Game 1:
Unfortunately, with Middleton out, Holiday won't be able to roam around to different players as much. Giannis can pick up the slack and is always going to be there as a help defender, yet he's bound to have his hands full with the spacing Vucevic can create as a stretch 5 (if you'd like to call him that). Those matchups could very well pave the way for LaVine (OU 22.5 points) to have a big night in the Windy City. He's also had 5+ assists in five of the last six vs. Milwaukee at home, and is at +125 to go over 4.5.
The added responsibility for Giannis on both ends of the court, and how difficult it'd be to go down 2-1 with Game 4 still to play in Chicago, means we could see a signature Greek Freak performance. Short of that, I think the Bucks might be in trouble here.
One more trend: The road team (Bucks -2.5) has covered the spread in each of Chicago's past seven games.
There might be a legitimate curse on Chris Paul
Suns at Pelicans (Game 3), 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
Once again, I'm faced with a dilemma and complex feelings about Chris Paul. On one hand, I hate the way he's acted toward Boogie Cousins and countless others throughout his career. His gamesmanship and overall countenance on the hardwood makes him one of the biggest nuisances I've ever seen. Then again, he's one of the all-time greatest point guards and seems jinxed against ever winning an NBA championship, even though he totally deserves one.
CP3 has been snakebitten with untimely injuries throughout his career. He even got banged up in last year's postseason and had to will his way to press on. Right now he's healthy — and Devin Booker is likely out for weeks. Yikes. Although the Suns (-132) are 8-6 without Booker and that's pretty good, they've lost their last three sans DB1.
At least for Paul's sake, Scott Foster isn't refereeing tonight. Otherwise New Orleans would be a LOCK — and I say that only semi-facetiously.
So while the Pelicans' ball-dominant studs like CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram should have an easier time on both ends of the floor with Booker sidelined, they'll also have a leg up thanks to Jonas Valanciunas (OU 12.5 rebounds). The New Orleans center has been on a tear vs. Phoenix, with at least 17+ points and 13+ boards in six of his last seven.
One other anecdote to know: The Suns ranked third in the NBA in defensive rating. Booker is much more known for his prowess on offense. That facet of Phoenix's identity won't go away. They also still have plenty of capable role players who can fill it up. It just may fall more on CP3 than usual to score, like he did in Game 1 with a 19-point fourth quarter.
This is such a tight spread, so you're better off going moneyline if you decide to throw down. In any case, New Orleans (+2/+110) is 5-1 ATS in its latest first-round playoff contests.
One more trend: The Suns' past four games without Devin Booker have hit the Under (210 at -110).
I keep going 50/50 on this picks every day it seems, but I've had more luck choosing game results as opposed to player props. Still, I'm expecting Giannis to just go absolutely HAM as the focal point of the Bucks' offense with Middleton out. And at least for now — given how badly Atlanta needs to win —I'll nab them in a slight upset tonight. I don't think it's possible for Trae to play any worse than he has, and the good vibes at home should help.
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