The Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks delivered statement wins in their Orlando bubble debuts, and Sunday's prime-time duel is bound to be a doozy if they maintain that caliber of play.
Prohibitive MVP favorite Giannis Antetokounmpo had 36 points, 15 boards and seven dimes in a dominant 119-112 win over Boston. For Houston, James Harden netted 49 points to spark a rousing, 153-149 comeback victory over the Mavericks in overtime.
Before this Bucks-Rockets action tips off tonight, be sure to make use of our abe Insights preview, which provides you with the best odds, a forecast of how the wagers should trend and stats for both teams that may prove vital in deciding who'll come out on top.
Date: Sunday, August 2
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Implied Probabilities: Bucks 66%; Rockets 36%
Spread: MIL -5
Moneyline: MIL -190; HOU +175
Point guard Eric Bledsoe and reserve wing Pat Connaughton missed Milwaukee's opener as they try to work their way back from positive COVID-19 tests. Donte DiVincenzo would've been out for the season with a foot injury if not for the lengthy NBA hiatus, but he's back to fill in for Bledsoe, along with 3-point sharpshooter George Hill.
A sprained ankle continues to sideline key Rockets guard Eric Gordon. Although Harden and Russell Westbrook provide plenty of production on the perimeter, Gordon is a solid defender and versatile scorer who really gives Houston an added dimension when healthy.
105.37 vs. 103.69: Buckle up, because this is going to be a fast-paced thrill ride. No team in the NBA logs more average possession per game than the Bucks, but the Rockets have the fourth-highest PACE rating in their own right.
28.7 vs. 22.4: We covered this in our piece on the Mavs and Rockets, but it benefits from some repetition here. That first number is Houston's offensive rebound percentage allowed, which is 25th in the Association. Milwaukee allows the lowest rate of second-chance possessions among all teams.
-11.5 vs. -11.2: These individual stats are how many points worse off Milwaukee and Houston respectively are when Giannis and Rockets starter Robert Covington are off the floor, per Cleaning the Glass. That goes to show the immense impact Covington has had in his short time with the Rockets on that end of the floor.
It really can't be emphasized enough how valuable Covington has been beyond comparing him to the probable Defensive Player of the Year in Giannis. Due to his individual brilliance as a perimeter marksman and man-marker, Covington is bound to draw the majority of matchups on the Greek Freak, or on Khris Middleton when Giannis is out.
Covington arrived in Houston as part of the blockbuster February trade centered around Clint Capela. Although that robbed the Rockets of their only legitimate big man and traditional rim protector, it's a calculated gamble that's paid off thus far.
Much of Milwaukee's brilliance can be, at least in part, credited to Houston coach Mike D'Antoni, whose "Seven Seconds or Less" shooting philosophy on offense has ushered in a new era of basketball. D'Antoni and Rockets general manager Daryl Morey are the ultimate analytics-driven tandem.
Case in point: even with, well, bad shooting from 3-point range (34.9%), Houston still has one of the league's most dynamic offenses. Helping the cause is Harden getting to the rim at will, along with Westbrook, and converting free throws. Not many mid-range shots with this crew.
The Bucks have adopted the lightning-quick tempo D'Antoni popularized during a successful tenure in Phoenix years ago, during the Steve Nash heyday. Now, Giannis and Middleton, two crazy-big ball-handling playmakers, are driving the East's unquestionable top team with an evolved offshoot of that system.
Can Milwaukee burn D'Antoni with some of his own patented tactics, or will the Rockets pull the upset?
To answer the above question, both can very well happen. The point total is astronomically high, yet Houston's last outing resulted in a whopping 302 points scored. Thus, look for action to go on the Over, if for no other reason than the sheer number of possessions both squads figure to have.
Unless you're trying to parlay the Bucks with some other games, their moneyline isn't worth investing in. It may be worth waiting until after tip-off, to see if you can get better odds in the event the Rockets blast off with an early run. In terms of pre-game bets, look for Houston to take most of the moneyline action and handle.
There are bound to be so many runs in this contest, so live wagers on the spread are the way to go — unless you want to sweat constantly in front of the TV for a few hours. Having said that, the Bucks do have a 35-26 ATS record as favorites, so bettors will probably err on that side of the spread.
Note: Odds current as of 3:15 p.m. ET on Sunday, August 2.
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