Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:01 AM

Inside the Paint - Thursday

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(Straight Up, Against the Spread)

Game of the Night (TNT, 8:05 p.m. ET)
Milwaukee (7-0 SU, 5-2 ATS) at Boston (5-2 SU, 3-4 ATS)

Thursday’s top NBA matchup between the Bucks and Celtics will be a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference first round playoff series. Boston defeated Milwaukee in seven games as the home team held serve in every contest, which included a 112-96 win by the Celtics in Game 7.

Fast forward six months and Milwaukee has had an incredible start to its 2018-19 campaign and it lays claim to the last unbeaten team in the NBA. Six of its seven victories have come by double digits, which includes a 124-109 win over Toronto on Tuesday.

After starting the season 2-2, the Celtics have ripped off three straight wins and they’re doing so with defense. Boston is allowing 97.6 points per game, ranked first in the league and the only team to hold anybody under the century mark. Make a note that Milwaukee (104.1 PPG) isn’t far behind defensively.  

The largest improvement thus far for the Bucks is their offense, which is averaging 120 PPG and that’s a huge increase from the 106.1 PPG production last season. Boston (102.4 PPG) hasn’t shot the ball well all season but their last two efforts (109, 108) in wins over Detroit were the highest marks this season. NBA expert Tony Mejia weighed in on the showdown from TD Garden tonight.

Mejia said, “Giannis Antetokounmpo clearing concussion protocol means we get to see where the Bucks sit in the East pecking order immediately, especially if Jaylen Brown is able to participate for Boston. The addition of Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova allows Greek Freak to concentrate on attacking the paint since both bigs spread the floor so well and drag opposing frontcourt defenders out to the perimeter. In this case, Al Horford and Aron Baynes will be affected.”

“It’s a short sample size, but it should be pointed out that the Magic upset the Celtics in Boston with Nikola Vucevic shooting 11-for-18 and showing off a great touch from the outside, while the other centers they’ve played – Joel Embiid, Jonas Valanciunas, Steven Adams and Andre Drummond are all traditional back-to-the-basket types.”

“Look for this to work to Milwaukee’s benefit and don’t be surprised if this total winds up being the Celtics’ largest of the season to date, besting the 219 that was set for their visit to OKC on Oct. 25.”

The total opened at 215 and while Boston has been a great ‘under’ lean (5-2) the Bucks have watched the ‘over’ go 5-2.

Home/Away Tendencies

Charlotte (4-4 SU, 6-2 ATS) has turned a profit for bettors this season, especially at home (2-1 SU, 3-0 ATS). The Hornets opened as slight home favorites over Oklahoma City (2-4 SU, 2-4 ATS) tonight and the Thunder are winless (0-2 SU, 1-1 ATS) on the road. I expect the public to lean to the visitor in this matchup but backing OKC on the road has been a poor investment dating back to last season and the Thunder remain the worst 3-point shooting team (27.5%) in the league.

After eight games, the book is out on Philadelphia (4-4 SU, 4-4 ATS) and its numbers have been solid at home (4-0) and poor on the road (0-4). The Clippers (4-3 SU, 4-3 ATS) visit tonight as underdogs and their only win on the road (1-2) came against the James Harden-less Rockets. Along with strong home numbers, the 76ers could be identified as bullies. Four wins against the Bulls, Magic, Hornets and Hawks certainly doesn’t make noise while the losses came to the three best teams in the East (Celtics, Bucks, Raptors) and a formidable Pistons squad. I think it’s fair to say that Los Angeles is ranked in between those groups and that’s why this line is Philadelphia (-5) isn’t as high.

Five Straight?

After starting the season with a 1-3 record, Sacramento (5-3 SU, 6-2 ATS) has ripped off four straight wins and they’ll go for its fifth in a row Thursday when it meets Atlanta (2-5 SU, 2-5 ATS) on the road. As you often hear in our industry, the Kings go from hunter to hunted as they opened as short road favorites (-2) over the Hawks. This is the first time this season that Sacramento is listed in the favorite role and doing so on the road is a tad surprising but the Hawks certainly deserve that treatment. Atlanta has only played two games int its new digs (State Farm Arena) and a 1-1 record could easily be 0-2 if Dallas didn’t collapse (111-104) to the Hawks in the opener on Oct. 24.

The stat that catches my eye with Sacramento comes from its offense, which is ranked third in field goal percentage (49.8%) and fourth in 3-point field goal percentage (40%). I doubt the Kings can maintain that pace but they’re super athletic and they’ve got a bunch of young guys that can finish at the rim. Knowing the Hawks aren’t as deep as Sacramento, I would lean to the visitor in this spot but the wake-up call is coming. The Kings finish up their four-game road trip at Milwaukee on Sunday in a game that is scheduled in the afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET).

If you’re not sold on the Hawks or Kings, you’re looking at a total of 231 and that’s the highest number on the board. It makes sense based on the defensive numbers for both the Kings (116.8 PPG) and Hawks (116.9 PPG). Last season, the pair split their two meetings with the home team posting a double-digit victory in each contest. 

Zero Days Rest

Denver (6-1 SU, 4-3 ATS) survived a scare at Chicago last night and escaped with a 108-107 win but never came close to covering as an eight-point road favorite. For the second straight night, the Nuggets will be laying points on the road when they visit Cleveland. The Nuggets have gone 1-0 both SU and ATS on no rest this season but they played that game at home, which was a 100-98 win over Golden State on Oct. 21.

The Cavaliers (1-6 SU, 4-3 ATS) just won their first game of the season on Tuesday, a 136-114 blowout win over Atlanta as 4 ½-point home favorites. Prior to that win, Cleveland was 0-3 both SU and ATS at Quicken Loans Arena and all of the losses came by double digits.

New Orleans (4-3 SU, 4-3 ATS) did as much as it could but still dropped a 131-121 decision at Golden State on Wednesday as a nine-point underdog. Tonight, the club will visit the Moda Center to face Portland (5-2 SU, 5-2 ATS). The Pelicans have only faced a back-to-back spot once this season and they got blitzed 132-111 at home by the Jazz on Oct. 27. All-Star Anthony Davis sat out that game and his absence was obviously felt.

If you’ve read my “ITP” columns before, you’ve probably heard me talk about fading teams in their first game back after a road trip of three or more games. It hasn’t clicked this season but something to keep an eye on and Portland faces the angle tonight after finishing its four-game road trip with a 3-1 record.

In case you forgot, the Pelicans embarrassed the Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs last season with a 4-0 sweep. There was no answer for Davis or Jrue Holiday and while some may play the revenge factor, sometimes you have to play the matchup. Including the outcome of that series, New Orleans has won eight of the last 10 and that includes a 4-1 record at Portland.

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Even though has a stable of NBA experts, our Editorial Staff has decided to post Daily Plays as extra content. With the first couple weeks in the books, it’s safe to say that we’re ready to roll this out in November. We’ll have two daily selections and hopefully it provides you some insight into my style of handicapping and others. To borrow from my “Total Talk” piece – Press, Pass or Fade but in the end – Good Luck!

Chris David can be reached at [email protected]

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