|Time||8 p.m. ET|
|TV||NBA League Pass|
|Odds via DraftKings. Get up-to-the-minute NBA odds here.|
The Bucks began their bid to repeat by knocking off the Nets, 127-104, in their season opener on Tuesday night. Giannis Antetokounmpo picked up where he left off in The Finals by posting team highs in points (32), rebounds (14), and assists (seven) in the win.
The Heat upset the top-seeded Bucks in the second round of the 2020 playoffs in the bubble, but after the Bucks added Jrue Holiday, they swept the Heat in the first round of the 2021 playoffs.
This season the Heat have added a point guard of their own with the signing of Kyle Lowry in free agency. Will the addition of Lowry be enough to lift the Heat over the Bucks on Thursday night? Let’s find out as the Bucks are a short two-point road favorite.
Can Bucks Dominate Down Low?
If the Bucks win and cover as road favorites, it will be because Khris Middleton scores efficiently while they utilize their size advantage inside. On the injury front, Jrue Holiday (heel) is probable to play Thursday while Donte DiVincenzo (ankle), Bobby Portis (hamstring), Semi Ojeleye (calf), and Rodney Hood (foot) are all out.
With Holiday seemingly less than 100% healthy and secondary scorers like DiVincenzo and Portis out, the Bucks will need Khris Middleton to play well to cover. Middleton is the Bucks’ best scorer from the midrange and beyond the arc, and he will need to take advantage of the open looks that he will get when the Heat go all out to stop Antetokounmpo from getting easier looks at the rim.
If this is a close game late, like Game 1 of the playoff series between these teams last year, Middleton will need to hit clutch shots for the Bucks to escape what should be a rocking atmosphere in Miami.
KHRIS MIDDLETON BEATS THE HEAT 🔥 pic.twitter.com/dPR8CeJqHq
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 22, 2021
The Bucks also need to take advantage of their size advantage inside. In their four playoff games against the Heat last season, the Bucks outrebounded the Heat by an average of 16.75 rebounds per game. The Heat didn’t have a strong point-of-attack defense, and this led to some over-switching and Bucks bigs matched up against smaller Heat players when fighting for rebounds.
With the addition of Lowry, the Heat won’t have to over-switch as much, but the Bucks are still considerably bigger with their front line of Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez against P.J. Tucker and Bam Adebayo.
Can Lowry Help Take Heat to Next Level?
If the Heat pull off the upset, they will need Kyle Lowry to have a big game in his Heat debut while shooters Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro score efficiently from beyond the arc. The Heat’s injury report is much shorter than that of the Bucks as Victor Oladipo (quadriceps) is the only player listed as he remains out indefinitely.
Kyle Lowry’s debut is the most interesting part of this game for me. The Heat didn’t have a true point guard last year, and with their two best players, Jimmy Butler and Adebayo, not being above-average three-point shooters, the Heat will need Lowry to set them up in advantageous positions.
In the preseason, Lowry has made it a priority to push the ball in transition so that the Heat’s athletic and savvy playmakers can get easier buckets without facing a set defense. This will be important against a Bucks defense that likes to pack the paint and will likely force Butler and Adebayo to become jumpshooters as much as possible in the halfcourt.
The addition of Lowry is also significant because it means that the Heat won’t need to run their offense through Adebayo at the elbow by using as many dribble handoffs as last year. Lowry’s presence as both a quality shooter and shot creator means that the Heat can get the ball to Adebayo with more spacing so that he can utilize his freakish size, explosiveness, and touch to score more easily than settling for pull ups from the elbow.
For more on how Lowry’s addition affects Adebayo’s role offensively, check out this breakdown from Brady Hawk of Five Reasons Sports.
— Brady Hawk (@BradyHawk305) October 12, 2021
Robinson, Herro, and even Max Strus should also benefit from Lowry’s addition into the offense, and their shooting will be key against a Bucks defense that is designed to force jumpshots.
Last season, the Bucks allowed the most non-corner three-point attempts last season (30.6% of opponent shots) and the most long midrange shot attempts (13.2% of opponent shots) in the NBA, per Cleaning The Glass. With Goran Dragic and Kendrick Nunn gone, the Heat will need Herro and other shooters to step up in the midrange as well as beyond the arc.
While the Bucks have the advantage in the frontcourt with their starters, the Heat need to take advantage of the Bucks when Antetokounmpo and/or Lopez check out as the Bucks only have one other center or power forward available: rookie power forward Sandro Mamukelashvili.
When Lopez is on the floor the Bucks will play in a drop, but when he is off, the Bucks will likely switch everything like they did against the Nets – this will allow Jimmy Butler to get switched onto smaller Bucks defenders and score from the line more easily.
Expect this game to have the physicality and intensity of a postseason game as the Heat were eliminated at home against a very similar Bucks team to end last season. The Heat will come out strong early, but the Bucks have the firepower to hang around and eventually pull this one out.
The Bucks’ size advantage inside is a big deal, and this will allow them to potentially survive an off-shooting night because they should get more shots and offensive rebounds than the Heat.
The Heat’s biggest roster weakness is at the four where they will start Tucker and bring Markieff Morris off the bench – both of whom are subpar shooters and will be much smaller than the Bucks they will be matched up against such as Lopez and Antetokounmpo. If Antetokounmpo or Lopez consistently find themselves in the post against Tucker and Morris, it’s a major “barbecue chicken alert.”
As long as the Bucks take care of the basketball and limit the Heat’s scoring chances in transition, this should be a Bucks win as the Heat get accustomed to having Lowry, Butler, and Adebayo play alongside each other. The Lowry acquisition will pay huge dividends for the Heat this season on both ends of the court, but it will take some time to figure out offensively in the halfcourt.
While I lean toward the Bucks at -2, I will instead wait to get this on the moneyline at even money or better live in what should be a competitive game. I like live betting this game because it will yield better value than betting pregame and laying points and also because I can judge whether Holiday’s heel injury will be a significant hindrance.
Pick: Bucks Moneyline at Even or Better Live