With all due respect to the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns or Philadelphia 76ers, a solid case could be made that the de facto NBA Finals are actually the Eastern Conference semifinals between the second-seeded Brooklyn Nets and third-seeded Milwaukee Bucks, each with an All-Star Big 3. Game 1 is Saturday from Brooklyn with the Nets as 4-point favorites on the William Hill Sportsbook NBA odds. The Bucks' biggest star, Giannis Antetokounmpo, is given an Over/Under of 31.5 points, and the Nets' biggest star, Kevin Durant, is set at 28.5 points.
Let's get to the injury concerns first and there's one on each side. For the Bucks, starting guard Donte DiVincenzo is done for the remainder of the postseason with a torn ligament in his left ankle suffered in Game 3 of the first-round sweep of Miami. The 24-year-old averaged career highs of 10.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists in the regular season. Bryn Forbes will start going forward and is a better shooter but is an awful defensive player.
For the Nets, versatile veteran Jeff Green strained his plantar fascia in Game 2 of the first round vs. Boston and hasn't played since. He is being called day-to-day but it would be a minor upset (at least via the original diagnosis) if he's ready by Saturday. Green played essentially every position for the Nets this season, including center in small-ball units, and averaged 11.0 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game.
This is the first playoff series since 2018 that the Bucks opened as series underdogs – Brooklyn is -210 and the Bucks +180. The favored result at +400 is Nets in seven.
Milwaukee won the season series 2-1, but at least one of Brooklyn's Big 3 missed each game. The Nets' lone win was at home on Jan. 18, 125-123. James Harden, in only his second game with the team after the big trade from Houston, had 34 points and 12 assists. Durant had 30 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Kyrie Irving was out.
The teams then played back-to-back games in Milwaukee on May 2 & 4 and the Bucks won 117-114 and 124-118. Harden missed both of those. Overall, Durant averaged 34.7 points in the three games vs. Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo averaged 39.7 points in the three.
Game 1 has a massive total of 239.5 points; Milwaukee led the league in scoring during the season at 120.1 ppg, a franchise record and the highest in the NBA since the 1983-84 Nuggets, and Brooklyn was second at 118.6. However, the Nets led the NBA with an offensive efficiency rating of 117.3 that was the best ever. Milwaukee was tied for fourth at 116.5.
The Bucks and Nets combined to average 238.7 points per game during the regular season. That's tied for the most between teams to meet in a playoff series in the past 50 years, matching the 1984 first-round matchup between the Nuggets and Jazz.
This writer likes the Nets in the opener and the series, probably in six. Brooklyn is 10-1 ATS in its past 11 as home favorite, while Milwaukee is 0-8 ATS in its past eight as a dog.
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