The NBA Finals begin on Tuesday night, but the best player in the series likely won’t be playing.
Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo is listed as doubtful ahead of Game 1 against the Phoenix Suns. Antetokounmpo injured his knee during the Eastern Conference Finals and is still working back to health as the series tips off in Phoenix.
(Update - 2 p.m. ET: Antetokounmpo has been upgraded to questionable)
With Antetokounmpo's status up in the air, the Bucks enter the series as underdogs — both for the series as a whole and for Game 1. The Bucks are currently +165 to win the series and 6-point underdogs for Game 1 at BetMGM. (The line moved slightly to 5.5-point underdogs after Antetokounmpo was upgraded.)
The Suns have been the most profitable team for bettors during the playoffs, posting an 11-5 record against the spread. But I think six is just too many points to give this Bucks team.
Most bettors are siding with the Suns in this game. Per BetMGM, 73% of the bets and 75% of the money it has received on the point spread has come in on Phoenix. But I’m going against the conventional wisdom and taking the Bucks and the points.
I was even tempted to play the Bucks on the moneyline at +195. The Bucks have been an underdog just four times during the postseason. They are 3-1 ATS during those games, winning all three outright. That includes Game 6 on the road against the Hawks. The Bucks were 3.5-point underdogs but won by 11 to clinch the East.
I like the connectedness I’ve seen from the Bucks without Antetokounmpo in the lineup. As we saw in Games 5 and 6 against the Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee has an array of players who can put up big numbers. Khris Middleton can score in a variety of ways, Brook Lopez has been stellar in the paint, Jrue Holiday is as steady as they come, and even Bobby Portis has been playing at a high level.
I also think the Suns showed just how beatable they can be in the Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Clippers. Early in the playoffs, the Suns were blowing teams out, but they won three games against the Clippers by a combined 11 points. And until Chris Paul exploded in the second half, Game 6 looked like it could come down to the wire too.
Even without Antetokounmpo, the Bucks are a better team than the Clippers. Paul isn’t dropping 41 points again and Devin Booker shot just 37.1% from the field and 28.6% from deep during the conference finals.
I’m confident the Bucks can cover the spread, and wouldn’t be surprised at all if they pulled out the win.
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