The Brooklyn Nets have played the first two games of their Eastern Conference semi-final series against the Milwaukee Bucks, for all intents and purposes, without James Harden.
The perennial All-Star, who functions as their point guard, played 43 seconds of Game 1 and then had to leave due to a hamstring strain. He missed Game 2 and now it’s been announced that he will be out on Thursday, which perhaps the Bucks can use to gain some ground in the series, now that it returns to their home floor at 7:30 PM ET.
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In the first game, Giannis Antetokounmpo had 34 points, but his teammates did not contribute a whole lot. The Bucks made just six of their 30 attempts from downtown. And the bench was slowed down by Brooklyn’s defensive scheme, which was designed to take away those perimeter shots.
In order to compensate for the loss of Harden, the Nets turned to Mike James, who got a lot more playing time than usual (30 minutes). Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving combined for 54 points, and Blake Griffin hit four treys.
Following up that 115-107 victory, the Nets blew Milwaukee out of the gym in Game 2, jumping out to a 36-19 first quarter lead and never looking back. The final score was 125-86, and the Bucks had another tough game from long range, going 8 for 27.
That sets the stage for Game 3, where the Bucks are laying some points in the Fiserv Forum:
Milwaukee Bucks -3 (-108)
Brooklyn Nets +3 (-112)
Over 235 points -110
Under 235 points -110
After two games, there isn’t such a big gap in terms of shooting from the field (Nets 49.5%, Bucks 44.3%). But the difference lies in what they have done from beyond the three-point arc. While the Nets have made 44.4%, led by Joe Harris, the league’s top sharpshooter, who’s gone 8-for-16, Milwaukee is at 24.6%. And they take a lot of triples, making just below 39% for the regular season.
A couple of things stand out in particular. Khris Middleton has taken the most shots for Milwaukee, and he’s just 30%. Giannis has gone two of 10 from the free throw line, and that would be a big factor, since the Bucks have had only 18 free throw attempts aside from him.
The story that has come out is that the Nets had the free throw timer on in the first two games (NBA players have to theoretically release the ball within ten seconds of getting it) and that has been a “distraction” for him. But the NBA has ordered that timer “off,” which doesn’t matter much here with the Bucks at home.
Speaking of free throws, Brooklyn has taken only 16 of them in the first two games. Milwaukee is more of a finesse team, so they’re not very physical with the Nets on defense. But they will have to do something about Griffin, who would be part of a “Big Four” if he was at his peak, but has come up big anyway. He hasn’t taken a shot from the foul line, but he’s got 25 points and 22 rebounds in two games.
He’s an interesting focus as we talk about possible player props for this game, because Milwaukee has to do something to control him. Along those lines, I would move a little toward the “Under” in his Points+Rebounds+Assists prop at BetOnline. It looks like this
Blake Griffin — Points+Rebounds+Assists
Over 20.5 (-114)
Under 20.5 (-114)
And what about Middleton, who has been snuffed out thus far? You’d almost have to think that he can come back strong, but what does that mean? Let’s not forget that he has 18 rebounds and has shot 50.6% at home. But his P+R+A prop still represents something that is inflated:
Over 33.5 (-110)
Under 33.5 (-118)
As for the game itself, we recognize that the Nets have spent plenty of time playing without Harden this season. Still, their record in those situations -even counting these two playoff games – is 14-9, which is not awe-inspiring. And just four of those wins have come against playoff teams.
The Bucks are good enough to put things back together at home. And you can’t count a coach like Mike Budenholzer out. He’ll make the necessary adjustments. So we would lay the points.
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