Bucks not great bet to win NBA title

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The Milwaukee Bucks have now moved right in behind Golden State in the NBA pecking order of title favorites.

They’re likely to finish with the league’s top record, having separated themselves from the Toronto Raptors in the race for the East’s top seed. While the value in riding the Bucks has diminished, it’s worth wondering now more than ever whether they can jump to the front of the line, which is something that simply isn’t done in the NBA.

Over the league’s last three decades, we’ve become familiar with the recurring theme that you must first suffer before you can triumph. Magic Johnson won a championship as a rookie and Larry Bird beat him in the first Finals he reached with the Celtics, but since then we’ve seen Michael Jordan and LeBron James stifled by the Pistons as an obstacle, the Shaq-Kobe Lakers struggle with the Spurs, the James-led Heat juggernaut fall to Dallas and his second go-round with the Cavs fell to the Warriors, who then turned around and had their 73-win season ruined by blowing a lead to Cleveland.

Although there have been a few exceptions such as the Tim Duncan-led Spurs and the Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen-infused Celtics, pain is often a prerequisite when it comes to tasting glory in the NBA.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks haven’t really been denied. Truth is, they haven’t been polished enough to be taken seriously.

Jason Kidd was fired over his inability to do more with the “Greek Freak” and a talented roster, failing to get past the Raptors in 2017’s first round before underachieving last season and losing the gig. Joe Prunty took over on an interim basis and lost to the Celtics 4-3 in the first round.

Milwaukee was getting closer, but couldn’t even crack into the East’s top-four. To suddenly make the leap and win it all seems far-fetched, but that’s where we’re at due to how impressive the Bucks have been under new head coach Mike Budenholzer.

The Westgate SuperBook listed the Bucks at 7-5 to win the Eastern Conference in its latest odds update, favored ahead of the Raptors (5-2), 76ers and Celtics (both 11-4).  Milwaukee is now 6-1 to win the NBA title, ahead of the Rockets (7-1) and Raptors (10-1) to come in only behind the two-time defending champion Warriors, who are still a heavy favorite at 4-9.

The Bucks beat the Warriors in Milwaukee 134-111 way back on Nov. 8 before losing 105-95 in Oakland on Dec. 7 and boast the type of length on the perimeter that could give Golden State problems. 

But projecting them to win three series in order to get there when they haven’t won a single one since 2001 could be tough. The Bucks haven’t gotten out of the first round in their last eight playoff appearances, the last three of which have featured Antetokounmpo.

Maybe that’s enough fuel to drive the Greek Freak and fellow All-Star Khris Middleton, who have grown from disliking each other due to competition for playing time as rookies to becoming the driving forces for the team with the league’s highest average of margin of victory, an indication of how dominant they’ve been.

Their lack of experience deep in the playoffs is troubling, especially since teams like the Raptors and Celtics do have that in their back pocket. Toronto and Boston also have players who have won championships as leaders in Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving. Consider that before you go all in on the Bucks, especially now that the value has dwindled. When the season began back in October, you could’ve gotten in on the Bucks at 14-to-1 to win the East and 60-to-1 to win the title.

Budenholzer is going to be the Coach of the Year. His system has gotten results and his message is still fresh in his first season since stepping down as Hawks coach in order to take the job. Acquiring shooters like Brook Lopez and Nikola Mirotic to help spread the floor for Antetokounmpo has made a world of difference.

At this point, the MVP is Greek Freak’s to lose since the Bucks are going to finish with the league’s top record barring a collapse. Houston’s James Harden has had a tremendous impact, doing the heavy lifting when Chris Paul and Clint Capela were sidelined in order to make the Southwest Division title they’re likely to bring home possible. But the Rockets are going to have their hands full finishing off a top-four finish out West.

Since he already won last year, Antetokounmpo will likely replace him atop more ballots. Giannis is now -250 to win MVP per Westgate while Harden is available at +200, so this race doesn’t seem all that close as we head into the regular season’s final 10-game stretch.

Those awards that Antetokounmpo and Budenholzer will bring home may be the only hardware that Milwaukee wins this season, so it’s not worth betting them to win even the Eastern Conference at the current odds. The Bucks will have homecourt advantage, but it remains to be seen whether they can handle the pressure, especially with key combo guard Malcolm Brogdon (foot) and Mirotic (thumb) out until the playoffs with injuries they’ll likely still be attempting to overcome.

Lakers at Perlicans (Sunday): Back the Pelicans to continue seeking out revenge on the Lakers for publicly trying to pry Anthony Davis away before the trade deadline by taking down L.A. on its final visit to New Orleans this season. PELICANS

Hornets at Warriors (Sunday): Later on that night, ride the Hornets and Warriors to combine on a shootout at Oracle and ride the over before watching Stephen Curry and Kemba Walker put on a show. OVER

Last week: 1-1

Season: 26-25

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About the Author
Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia

Tony Mejia has been a national writer for nearly two decades and has covered NBA and college basketball as a columnist, analyst, handicapper, and bracketologist for CBS Sports, Pro Basketball News, and numerous other sites.

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