Warriors-Bucks showdown looming?

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The NBA’s version of the Final Four is set with Western Conference Finals having begun on Tuesday evening and the Eastern Conference Finals to begin on Wednesday.

Golden State reached the Conference Finals by defeating Houston in six games, including a road win to clinch the series despite Kevin Durant’s absence due to injury. Durant was almost certain to miss Tuesday’s opening game against Portland and is listed as likely out for Thursday’s Game 2.

Portland advanced to face the Warriors by defeating Denver in seven games, winning the final game in Denver and overcoming a 17-point first-half deficit.

The Eastern Finals feature top-seeded Milwaukee facing second-seeded Toronto. In reaching the Conference Finals the Bucks have lost just once in nine playoff games, losing their opening second-round game at home to Boston and then winning four in a row.

The Raptors needed the full seven games to get by Philadelphia, winning at home in Game 7 on the first Game 7 buzzer-beater in NBA history. Launched from the right corner by Kawhi Leonard just as the clock was about to hit 0:00, his shot bounced off the rim four times before going through the net and sending the Raptors to Milwaukee for Wednesday’s Game 1.

Golden State pretty much opened as a -500 favorite to win it series against the Trail Blazers with the takeback on Portland +375. The early action came in on the two-time defending champion Warriors such that by mid-morning on Tuesday the Warriors were up to -550.

Milwaukee opened -300 at most books with Toronto at +240. There was not major movement in that line over the first 36 hours or so of wagering. By mid-morning Tuesday the Bucks were as low as -280 at some books and as high as -320.

Here are my thoughts on both series that will determine the teams that will meet in the NBA Finals.

Warriors vs. Trail Blazers: In four regular season meetings each team won once at home and once on the road. But note that these teams have not met since just before the All-Star break, nearly three months ago.

Golden State won by 28 points at home and by 10 on the road. Portland won by one in overtime at Golden State and by 22 points at home in that most recent meeting. Two of the games went over the total and two stayed under, including the overtime game that still stayed under by eight points.

The absence of Portland’s Juric Nurkic due to injury has been overcome somewhat by the play of mid-season acquisition Enes Kanter. But Portland’s fate will rest largely on the play of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. The latter has elevated his play in the postseason with his per-game averages in points (25.6), rebounds (5.8) and assists (3.4) all exceeding his regular season averages.

I normally look to play the road underdog to gain a split in the first two games of a competitive series. While the overall series odds might suggest this will not be a competitive series, the absence of Durant for at least Game 1 and likely Game 2 allows for a case to be made for the Blazers to have a realistic chance to earn that split. I will have split my Game 1 play on Portland plus the points and on the money line (+280) and will repeat that play for Game 2 if the Warriors won Tuesday night and Durant is confirmed out for Game 2.

Depending on the results of the first two games I may back Portland again at home in Game 3 if down 0-2 in the series but only if the Blazers were competitive for most of the first two games. Otherwise it might be best to pass Game 3 unless the series is tied (or Portland won both games at Golden State) in which case my play will be on the Warriors to win and cover Game 3.

I will look under before over on a game-by-game basis for Totals plays. For the series I find it difficult to make a case for Portland to pull the upset and expect the Warriors to win in either five (9-4 odds) or six (7-2 odds) games and advance to a fifth straight NBA Finals.

Bucks vs. Raptors: Depending on the book, the Bucks are favored by 6 or 6.5 points over Toronto in Wednesday’s Game 1 in Milwaukee with the Total at 218. Milwaukee won three of four regular season meetings (by 15, 5 and 13 points) but the lone loss was by seven points at home in early January.

The teams last met at the end of January so this will be their first meeting in 3 1/2 months. The Totals results in their four games were 2-2 although there was great volatility. The overs went over by 10.5 and 12.5 points while the unders stayed under by 26.5 and 34 points.

It is worth noting, however, that both overs were played in Milwaukee and both unders occurred in Toronto. All four games were decided in regulation. Milwaukee was the best team in the NBA all season, playing consistent basketball from start to finish and was the only team to win 60 regular season games. The Bucks led the league in scoring differential at plus 8.8 points per game (Golden State was second at plus 6.5 ppg) with Toronto third at plus 6.0 ppg. Milwaukee has been dominant in going 8-1 both SU and ATS. Seven of their eight wins have been by 12 points or more.

While most of the attention in this series will be focused on the comparisons between Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, the play of their supporting casts may well decide the outcome. On balance, the Bucks have the deeper roster and should advance to the NBA Finals. Milwaukee will be well-rested when the series begins and, in a departure from my usual approach, I will be backing them to win and cover in Game 1. Many observers may point to the fact that the Bucks lost their opening game to Boston in their previous series after being idle for six days. It’s exactly for that reason that I will back the Bucks here following a full week of rest as coach Mike Budenholzer can point to that dull effort against the Celtics to get his team focused to avoid a repeat.

Leonard gives the Raptors a legitimate shot at being competitive throughout the series and should the Bucks win Game 1 I will look to take the points with Toronto in Game 2. Unless the Bucks are down 0-2 heading to Toronto I will likely back the Raptors in Game 3, especially if made small underdogs. I can easily see this series tied at two games apiece with the teams returning to Milwaukee for what would then be a best-of-three series with the Bucks winning Games 5 and 6.

Raptors at Bucks – 6 (Wednesday): The Bucks are 8-1 both SU and ATS in the Playoffs with the lone loss in Game 1 of their second round series against Boston for which the Bucks had been idle for six days. After a full week of rest following the elimination of Boston expect a focused effort from Milwaukee to avoid a repeat of that initial rusty effort. BUCKS

Trail Blazers at Warriors  (Thursday): The play will be on the loser of Tuesday’s Game 1. If Portland lost Game 1 the play will be split among the point spread and the money line. If Golden State was upset in Game 1 the play will be on the Warriors to cover the spread in Game 2.

Last Week: 1-1

Season: 45-33


About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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