Bucks vs. Cavaliers: Both Teams Will Lean on Defense

Action Network contributor Jim Turvey previews Saturday's divisional matchup between the Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers, including his betting prediction.

Bucks vs. Cavaliers Odds

Bucks Odds +1.5
Cavaliers Odds -1.5
Over/Under 221
Time 7:30 p.m. ET
TV NBA League Pass
Odds via BetMGM. Get up-to-the-minute NBA odds here.

It may not even be the All-Star break yet, but the Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers wrap up their season series on Saturday night in The Land.

The Bucks won the first two showdowns, both in Milwaukee, but after the Cavs won the most recent outing, they now have a chance to split the season series if they can successfully defend home court again against Giannis Antetokounmpo and Co.

The two teams are separated by just two games, so if the Cavs can indeed pull off the win, they’ll have a very legitimate shot to break the Bucks streak of four straight division titles in the second half of the season.

There will be plenty to watch, and as of now, there are plenty of unknowns on the injury report, so let’s do our best to set up some betting logic to apply when approaching this series finale for these two division rivals.

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Milwaukee Bucks

For the Bucks, they are hoping that a full three-day break will make it so that Antetokounmpo can return to the court after his recent four-game absence. The Bucks are 2-2 in those four games, having dropped a pair against the Miami Heat before bouncing back with wins against the Indiana Pacers and Toronto Raptors.

The team has fared decently without Giannis this season, winning six of the 10 games he has missed, but none of those wins have come against the league’s true elite–a title the Cavs can safely now claim.

Reading a bit between the lines in recent injury reports, even though Giannis is listed as questionable right now, I think he’s going to try to play, bringing the team to near-full health, with only Kris Middleton still working his way back to prime time, having most recently played in the G League in an attempt to get back to full speed at a lower level.

The Bucks currently sit at an impressive 29-16, but they have the biggest gap between their actual record and their Pythagorean record, and their Net Rating suggest a team that should sit much further down the standings. In fact, entering Saturday’s games, the Bucks’ Net Rating (+1.3) is basically the equivalent to the rating of the 24-25 Utah Jazz (+1.2).

Given that the team has also struggled in the fourth quarter, it’s not as if they are simply saving up close wins, and it looks like they could be a prime regression candidate if we are zoomed out.

Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavs, on the other hand, have the third-best net rating in the league (through Thursday’s games), but are coming off one of their worst losses of the season. Playing host to a Golden State Warriors team that decided to sit their top four players, the Cavs took a nasty loss, letting the Warriors’ B Team hit for 23 3-pointers en route to a 120-114 loss.

The Cavs were without their own superstar, Donovan Mitchell, for the second straight, and fans will have to hope that part of the decision to give him the night of was due to the Warriors injury report–a decision that obviously backfired.

The Cavs have shown they need Mitchell this season, dropping four of the six games he has missed, and just from watching those games, the team just doesn’t look nearly the same out there without him, despite this having been a solid team last season without him.

If Mitchell does play, there’s a lot to like on the Cleveland side of things, though. They won by eight when the two matched up in Cleveland last time, and as noted above, are the far superior team by net rating. They also are heavily reliant on guard-run pick-and-roll, a play type that has been very successful against Milwaukee this season.

Bucks-Cavaliers Pick

There are a lot of question marks regarding the injury report right now, but I lean towards Mitchell and Antetokounmpo both playing because of how big the game could be by the end of the season.

If they do both play, and the line remains at Cleveland -1.5, I like the Cleveland side, but only as a lean, not full play.

Regardless of whether they play, I like the under. It was a play when I previewed these two a month ago, and a lot of the logic remains plus both stars are a bit hobbled, and we’re getting an extra point and a half. It’s a full play if Mitchell is out and a lean if he plays.

I will also add the two same player props from last time as well, with Evan Mobley having gone under 8.5 rebounds in 13 of his last 16 games, and Brook Lopez having hit two 3-pointers in all three matchups between these two this season. Mobley full play, Lopez a lean.

Pick: Under 221.5; Mobley Under 8.5 Rebounds (to -115)
Lean: Cleveland -1.5; Lopez Over 1.5 3-pointers