Bucks vs. Nets Preview: Back Patty Mills and Brooklyn at Home

Austin Wang breaks down Friday's potential Eastern Conference Finals matchup between the Bucks and Nets in Brooklyn.

Bucks vs. Nets Odds

Bucks Odds +4.5
Nets Odds -4.5
Over/Under 230
Time 7:30 p.m. ET
Odds via PointsBet. Get up-to-the-minute NBA odds here.

Friday night’s doubleheader on ESPN begins with the Brooklyn Nets hosting the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks stuck a dagger into the heart of the Brooklyn Nets’ championship aspirations in an epic and dramatic seven-game Eastern Conference Semifinals last postseason.

These teams are meeting for their second matchup this season. The Bucks won the season opener 127-104 behind Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 32 points.

Good news: Kyrie Irving is back in the lineup! The superstar point guard dazzled in his first game of the season, scoring 22 points off 9-for-17 shooting in a comeback win against the Indiana Pacers on the road.

Bad news: the Nets will be without Irving’s services on Friday night as he is only available for road games. He is a part-time player due to the state of New York’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, and Irving does not have his shots.

The Nets are still seeking revenge against the Bucks for the heartbreaking playoff elimination. The Bucks are going through some issues with several of their rotational players in health and safety protocols. Can the Nets bounce-back and get a win at home?

Let’s dig into this matchup of two of Eastern Conference’s elite teams below.

>> Download The Action Network App to get real-time NBA odds, track your bets and follow all of our experts’ picks.

Can Antetokounmpo Carry the Bucks to a Road Win?

The Bucks roster is facing some tough luck. They are currently getting hit hard with players in health and safety protocols. The following players will be out for Friday’s game: Grayson Allen, Pat Connaughton, George Hill and Jrue Holiday. Coach Mike Budenholzer is also in health and safety protocols and will not be on the bench.

The Bucks have looked great on offense lately. In their last six games, they have the top ranked Offensive Rating (119.6) in the league, per NBA Advanced Stats. However, much of that is because of Holiday’s excellent play. Since the beginning of December, he averaged 21.3 points per game on 55% shooting from the field.  He has been their second-most valuable player behind Antetokounmpo.

His impact on defense will be felt even more as they will miss his clamps against James Harden.  Instead, they will need to have a combination of Jordan Nwora, Wesley Matthews and Khris Middleton guarding Harden, which doesn’t bode well for the Bucks’ chances.

They recently waived DeMarcus Cousins for some more roster flexibility. This doesn’t move the needle too much, but he was playing some valuable minutes for the Bucks, who are thin in the frontcourt with Brook Lopez injured.

With the open roster spot, the Bucks signed free agent guard Langston Galloway to a 10-day contract. Galloway played in four games for the Brooklyn Nets over two 10-days this season. This could be a sneaky pickup for the Bucks to get some intel on the Nets’ playbook.

Antetokounmpo is listed as probable to play. If he does, he will likely draw the assignment of guarding Durant and will need to exert more energy on defense. He is capable of a lot, but it may be asking too much for him to shoulder most of the scoring burden and play defense on the Nets’ best player. In addition, he may not be 100% recovered from a non-COVID illness that kept him out last game.

Can Harden and the Nets Capitalize on Holiday’s Absence?

The Nets were almost on their way to a four-game losing streak if it wasn’t for an incredible comeback against the Pacers on Wednesday. Bettors holding on to a Nets -8.5 ticket must be sick to their stomach after watching Indiana’s Ahmad Caver get a meaningless lay-up at the buzzer to lose by eight points, good enough for the back-door cover.

They’ve had some really disappointing losses, including an outright loss against the decimated Clippers roster as 13.5-point favorites. They seem to lack a killer instinct at the moment.

This is a home game, so it is expected that Irving won’t play tomorrow. His next opportunity to play is on January 10 vs the Blazers.

With Irving out, I anticipate Patty Mills will be back in the starting lineup. He will have the opportunity to shake his shooting slump and excel in a matchup against an injured backcourt on a Bucks team that gives up a lot of 3-pointers (29th in Opponent 3-point Rate). He should get many open shots with the Bucks’ defense focusing on Harden and Durant. Player points prop totals are worth a look here.

The NBA implemented rule changes to prevent “non-basketball moves” in an effort to draw fouls. Earlier in the season, it worked to the detriment of Harden, whose crafty game is centered around foul-baiting. However, I’ve noted in my weekly NBA totals market report, fouls and free throw attempts have increased league-wide for the fifth consecutive week. It appears the officials are not swallowing their whistles as much as they did earlier in the season.

Since the beginning of December, Harden has been averaging 10.8 trips to the line per game as he has adjusted to the new rules. The Bucks may have trouble keeping him off the free throw line.

Bucks-Nets Pick

The Nets may have been lacking a killer instinct in their past few games, but I expect them to be motivated when they seek revenge against the Bucks on Friday.

The Nets appear to have the advantage here with the Bucks’ roster decimated at the moment. With all these Bucks injuries, I make the Nets -5 at home, so I see some value in Nets -3.5 at BetMGM.

I also like Mills to exceed his player points total of 14.5 as he has averaged 16.0 points per game as a starter this season. He has a favorable matchup against the Bucks’ defense and fast pace, and I expect him to shake off his recent shooting slump.

Pick: Nets -3.5 (BetMGM) up to -4.5 | Patty Mills over 14.5 points