On Monday we have Central Division showdown which will attract the attention of those making NBA picks. Milwaukee has closed in on Chicago in the race for the top and can take a step closer.
Of course NBA basketball handicappers and those perusing the NBA betting odds understand this all might be a mute point the way Cleveland has ascended. Nevertheless, this is an important division confrontation involving two playoff bound squads and let’s look at the particulars.
Milwaukee Makes Moves to Improve Long Term
The Bucks (31-24, 34-20-1 ATS) moved their leading scorer Brandon Knight at the trading deadline which did nothing to enhance their playoff chances for a team one year removed from a 15-67 season.
But Milwaukee’s new owners and coach Jason Kidd have a different vision it appears, attempting to build a team that will have long term success and want certain pieces. Knight as mentioned was Milwaukee’s leading scorer, but was just fourth on the team in the plus/minus category, which at least suggests deficiencies in other areas and the chance to pick up Michael Carter-Williams (whom Kidd reportedly covets), 20-year old Tyler Ennis and add toughness and a good athlete in the front court in Miles Plumlee was too good to pass up in their assessment.
None of these moves have taken away what has become the foundation of the franchise, which those making sports picks understand, the defense. Milwaukee is fourth in points allowed (96.9) and has a matching number in field goal percentage defense at 43.3 percent. Consider the other four teams in the Top 5 are in order Golden State, Oklahoma City, Portland and Atlanta and is easy to comprehend the Bucks true intentions.
We will have to see what kind of mindset the Bucks bring to the Windy City tonight.
Chicago Worries about Themselves Not what Other are Doing
The Bulls are 35-21 (25-31 ATS), lead their division and have the third-best record in the conference and spent the first half of the season dealingwith nagging injuries. One might think Chicago would be pleased to be in this spot, yet following this club as a fan or daily watching the NBA odds, they know this has been by far the most joyless season since Tom Thibodeau became their coach in 2010.
The last couple years the Bulls have had a built-in excuse for not reaching higher in the East with Derrick Rose injured. They instead were praised for their toughness and gumption. Though nobody realistically expected Rose would be 100 percent back, with the addition of Pau Gasol on offense and defense and emerging star in Jimmy Butler, Chicago looked poised to be a top team in their conference.
Too often Chicago has been going through the motions, losing games they should have won and squeaking by inferior opposition. Rose has called out his teammates, Taj Gibson just the other day came out and said “we’re a family and together” which is something championship- caliber teams do not have to explain almost three-quarters into a season.
Gasol is no longer the defensive presence he used to be and the help defense we are accustomed to seeing from a Thibodeau-coached team ranks 12th in field goal percentage defense (44.3) and 13th in points allowed at 99.2.
While the Bulls players have been asked about Cleveland’s charge towards the top and even the Bucks improved play, they have been united in saying they can only control how they play and the outcome if they perform how they should would be enough to win the division.
Betting Odds and Head to Head
Sportsbooks have Chicago as 7.5-point favorites with a total of 195. The Bulls have won and covered both matchups this season. The Bulls have held Milwaukee to 86 and 87 total points, while scoring 95 in each affair leading to a pair of Under’s.
Chicago once again has been lousy home team, which has been going on for awhile and is only 16-11 and 10-17 ATS, which has them ranked at 27th against the spread for home teams. The Bucks on the other hand are the best road team to bet on at 22-7 ATS.
Milwaukee appears to be safely in playoff position in the Eastern Conference, but for a team which has shown this much improvement despite a myriad of injuries, defections and trades, this is a battle trying to catch first place Chicago. After tonight the Bucks are back home to face Philadelphia Wednesday and follow that up with a four-game West swing to take on the L.A. Lakers, Utah, Denver and Golden State. Milwaukee is 6-8 and 7-6-1 ATS with no rest.
Chicago opened up a long seven-game homestand with their victory over Phoenix on Saturday and should have winnable contests against Charlotte and Minnesota in their next two outings, but the rest of the time on Madison Street it will more dicey with the Clippers, Wizards and Thunder in town. The Bulls are 16-10 and 11-15 ATS with one day between games.
Though Milwaukee has narrowed the talent gap this season, in the two contests this season the difference was about confidence, Chicago expecting to win and the Bucks hoping to do so. I fully expect Da Bulls to win for third consecutive time this season, but I’m not convinced they will beat the odds makers number, with Milwaukee finding different players to score and their sensational depth and defense making this a closer than expected outcome, so back them with your NBA picks.
NBA Basketball Free Pick – Milwaukee +8 at 5Dimes