The Milwaukee Bucks may be the better team, but the Atlanta Hawks are the right NBA pick for Wednesday’s Eastern Conference Finals opener.
Atlanta Hawks vs. Milwaukee Bucks
Wednesday, June 23, 2021 – 8:30 PM ET at Fiserv Forum
Ask not for whom the bell tolls: It tolls for the Philadelphia 76ers. The top seed in the Eastern Conference got bounced by the No. 5 Atlanta Hawks in seven games, despite being favored in each one of those contests. And while everyone else is blaming it on Ben Simmons, readers of this space know the Danny Green injury was the real reason for Philadelphia’s demise. No glue guy, no cohesion.
Now the Hawks find themselves in the Eastern finals, where they’ll try to work the same magic against the No. 3 Milwaukee Bucks. Of course, we’re sticking with the Hawks for our NBA picks. They still have all the betting value, even more so after the Bucks eliminated the Brooklyn Nets, who were the title favorites heading into the playoffs. Atlanta opened as 7.5-point road dogs at Heritage Sports (visit our Heritage Sports Review)for Game 1 on Wednesday, and they’ve already moved to +7 as we go to press, so we’d better get in while the getting is good.
The sharps were correct to get their money down at +7.5. The computer projections at FiveThirtyEight have Milwaukee favored by 5.5 points, leaving that tasty 2-point gap between the projections and the NBA odds that old-school handicappers crave. Over at The USA Today, Jeff Sagarin’s computers have it even closer, with Milwaukee ahead by anywhere between three and four points. That’s a spicy meatball.
Kudos to Milwaukee for putting away the title favorites, but the Nets had them up against the wall before Kyrie Irving got hurt in Game 4. Brooklyn had won each of the previous three games ATS, using the tried-and-true game plan of bodying up Giannis Antetokounmpo. They still came within a Kevin Durant toenail of beating the Bucks in Game 7. The defensive-minded Hawks should be able to follow the same blueprint, and their chances of success should be greater, given their relatively healthy roster.
Space: The Final Frontier
If the Bucks had managed their offseason correctly, they might have breezed into the Eastern finals – and the Hawks might have come up short. After trading for Jrue Holiday, Milwaukee had their sights set on free agent Bogdan Bogdanovic, but their sign-and-trade deal with the Sacramento Kings fell apart, and Atlanta scooped him up instead. Bogdanovic delivered in spades, playing at an All-Star level and leading the Hawks with a plus-3.8 Box Plus/Minus at Basketball Reference.
Which brings us back to Green, in a roundabout way. The spacing Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari (plus-0.9 BPM) provide Atlanta has allowed Trae Young (plus-3.6 BPM) to further develop his offensive skill set, dishing out a career-high 10.1 assists per 36 minutes while taking a career-low 6.7 trey attempts – a good thing, given that Young only hit 34.3 percent of those attempts during the regular season. Green’s 3-and-D prowess gave Simmons the same luxury, until Green got knocked out of the lineup. Can the Bucks give Antetokounmpo enough space now that Donte DiVincenzo (ankle) is out for the duration? Bet accordingly, and may the sphere be with you.
NBA Pick: Hawks +7 (-108) at Heritage Sports
*The pick reflects the line at the moment the writer made the play, the odds at the beginning of this article show the live line movement. Since the lines might vary, don’t forget to refer back to our live odds.