The NBA playoff Eastern Conference Finals begin on Wednesday with game 1 in the matchup between the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks.
Bookies are betting that the Bucks will clinch this after they dispatched the championship favourite Brooklyn Nets, but the Hawks’ seven-game grind of the Philadelphia 76ers proved they’re no pushovers.
In Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks have a big man who can dominate both on offense and defence in ways few other players can. The Hawks can bank on breakout star Trae Young, who has been exceptional this postseason.
Our recommended sportsbooks are locked and loaded with betting markets for the duration of the NBA Playoffs, so let's get to it.
The road to the conference finals
Both teams went through a seven-game playoff battle to make it to this point.
The Hawks needed seven games to dispatch the Sixers, in a series that swung back and forth between the two sides before a decisive 103-96 game 7 victory in Philadelphia.
The Bucks had an arguably even tougher grind, having been matched with the top-billed Nets in the conference semifinals. But with Brooklyn missing two of their three superstars for much of the series, Milwaukee pounced and turned a 0-2 start to the series into a 4-3 victory in seven.
Both these teams are missing starters, though the Hawks have much bigger injury concerns.
Atlanta are without Brandon Goodwin and De’Andre Hunter and may also be missing Cam Reddish, who skipped game 7 against the Sixers with an injured Achilles tendon. Bogdan Bogdanovic’s knee will also keep the Hawks’ medical staff busy: the small forward sat out the fourth quarter of game 7 against the Sixers with a knee injury and is a doubt for Wednesday night.
Milwaukee, meanwhile, have Donte DiVincenzo out for the season after he tore an ankle ligament in May but are otherwise a healthy team, with Jordan Nwora likely to have beaten a thigh injury in time for game 1.
Who to watch
Hawks guard Trae Young has lit up highlight reels this postseason and has been carrying the team’s offensive load throughout the playoffs.
Young led his team with 29 points per game in the series against the Sixers and has a killer floater that the Bucks will have to watch out for, though he will have to improve the .323 shooting he posted against Philly. Young’s secret weapon, though, is his passing: he is averaging 10.4 assists per game in the playoffs.
The Bucks will be relying on Jrue Holiday to keep Young in check. Holiday is a superb defensively, as he showed when he hounded Kevin Durant in game 7 against the Nets, but he will have to avoid getting into foul trouble early in the game.
Defense is where the Bucks shine. In Holiday, Khris Middleton and P.J. Tucker, Milwaukee has a defensive unit that can shut out any team and ranked as the best in the NBA during the regular season.
Offensively, the Bucks lean heavily on their power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak leads his team in points (24.8ppg) in the playoffs and is leading the entire NBA in total rebounds, having racked up 150 boards so far this postseason.
Betting Hawks vs Bucks game 1
The Hawks have won on the road in both New York and Philadelphia this postseason, but the Bucks have won all five games they played at Fiserv Forum during the playoffs.
The Bucks have homecourt advantage and have won all five games they played at Fiserv Forum this playoff season. That is reflected in the Moneyline odds, which have them at -385
But watch out for the Hawks: Atlanta have won on the road in both New York and Philadelphia during the playoffs, making +280 very enticing.
Odds are tighter on the spread, where the Hawks are priced at -105 to cover the +8 point spread versus the Bucks’ -115.
Atlanta Hawks +8.5
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