Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:59 AM

Inside the Paint - Tuesday

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Game of the Night (TNT, 8:05 p.m. ET)
Houston (47-27 SU, 34-37-3 ATS) at Milwaukee (55-19 SU, 44-28-2 ATS)

There haven’t been many exciting games to watch in the NBA lately but that changes on Tuesday when the Bucks and Rockets square off in a possible preview of this year’s NBA Finals. Adding intrigue to the matchup will be the additional showdown between the leaders for the league’s Most Valuable Player award – Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Houston’s James Harden. NBA Expert Tony Mejia weighed in on the matchup between the two All-Stars.

Mejia said, "Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden will only get stuck defending one another on switches and shouldn’t have much interaction after exchanging pleasantries prior to tip-off, so this isn’t a winner-take-all between the top two MVP candidates. At this point, the award is Greek Freak’s to lose since the Bucks are going to finish with the league’s top record barring a collapse. Harden has had a tremendous impact on the Rockets, doing the heavy lifting when Chris Paul and Clint Capela were sidelined in order to make the Southwest Division title they’re likely to bring home possible.”

“Unfortunately, the Rockets are going to have their hands full finishing off a top-four finish out West, which combined with the fact he already won last year, should lead to Antetokounmpo receiving more first-place votes. Giannis is now -250 to win MVP per Westgate while Harden is available at +200, so this race doesn’t seem all that close as we head into the regular season’s final 10-game stretch. A Houston win where Harden scores 50 or 60 points would spark one final flurry of debates, but ultimately, once Game 82 is played and Milwaukee finishes with the league’s top record, Antetokounmpo will finish ahead of Harden on most final MVP ballots.”

As Mejia mentioned, the Las Vegas Westgate SuperBook believes the MVP is a two-horse race and the only other player available for this wager is Oklahoma City’s Paul George, who sits at 40/1 and that’s impressive considering he was once a 250/1 long shot.

For the matchup between the teams, Milwaukee is listed as a four-point home favorite and beating the Bucks at the Fiserv Forum hasn’t been an easy task this season (30-6 SU, 22-14 ATS).

Mejia explained his position on the pair, “The Bucks are7-1 over their last eight home games, winning six of the games by at least 12 points to increase their league-leading margin of victory. The Rockets have won seven of eight road games, claiming Golden State, Boston, Toronto and most recently, New Orleans, among the victims. Their 14-2 run started with an upset in Oakland on Feb. 23, so they’ve been fantastic since getting healthy and will view this as another major test. The fact the Bucks won in Houston should be a motivating factor for the Rockets, who have beaten every team they’ve suffered a loss against this season with exception of the Clippers and this Milwaukee team they’ll be seeing for the second time.”

Milwaukee’s 116-109 at Houston on Jan. 9 as a 1 ½-point road favorite was a solid victory but the Rockets were without Chris Paul. For the rematch, it will be the Bucks playing short-handed as Malcolm Brogdon (heel) and Nikola Mirotic (hand) both remain ‘out’ for the team. Houston’s Eric Gordon (ankle) is ‘questionable.’

Houston has won and covered four straight and five of its last six games as an underdog, which means a money-line (+150) ticket could be in play.

The aforementioned first meeting in January went ‘under’ (229 ½) and the total opened slightly lower at 227 for Tuesday. Houston (44.7) and Milwaukee (38.1) are ranked first and second respectively in 3-pointers attempted but both sit in the bottom half of the league in 3-point field goal percentage. While Milwaukee leads the league with 117.5 points per game, Houston is ranked 11th at 113.1 PPG and that’s a drop-off from last season when it was fourth.

We’re still seeing high totals with Houston and savvy bettors going against their past perception have taken advantage of a 13-4 ‘under’ record for the Rockets since the All-Star break. Milwaukee has watched the 'over' go 18-17-1 at home.

Tight in the East

The first four seeds in the Eastern Conference have been locked up and the Boston Celtics are inches away from becoming the fifth team to clinch. That leaves us with three spots and five teams have a chance to earn a trip to the postseason and four of them are in action on Tuesday.

Charlotte (34-39 SU, 33-38-2 ATS) vs. San Antonio

Just when we thought the Hornets were dead in the water, they’ve ripped off three straight wins and two of the victories came against a pair of contenders in the East – Celtics and Raptors. Last Saturday’s 124-117 comeback victory over Boston as a four-point home underdog was very impressive but Sunday’s 115-114 buzzer beater win at Toronto on Sunday was definitely an eye-opener.

Fast forward to Tuesday and Charlotte has opened as a three-point home underdog to San Antonio, who is coming off a 115-96 road win over a short-handed Boston squad on Sunday. The Hornets did just but the Celtics as home ‘dogs but they’ve struggled in this role (3-5 SU, 4-3-1 ATS) this season.

The Hornets surprised the Spurs 108-99 on Jan. 14 as 7 ½-point road underdogs. Prior to that upset, San Antonio had won four straight games in this series and that includes their last two trips to Charlotte.

Orlando (36-38 SU, 39-34-1 ATS) at Miami (36-37 SU, 40-33 ATS)

Big game in the Southeast Division tonight and oddsmakers opened the Heat as 5 ½-point home favorites over the Magic for the fourth and final meeting of the season between the pair. These teams haven’t squared off since late December but Orlando is 2-1 through the first three encounters, and that includes a 105-90 win at Miami on Dec. 4. Including that win, the Magic have won four of their last five trips to South Florida. Orlando posted a 119-98 win over Philadelphia on Monday, which was its fifth consecutive victory. Unfortunately for Steve Clifford’s team, they’ve been very inconsistent on no rest this season, going 5-8 SU and 6-6-1 ATS. On the road in those back-to-back spots, Orlando is just 1-6 SU and 3-4 ATS.

The Heat have gone 9-3 in March and they’re coming off an impressive 3-1 road trip that included solid wins over the Thunder and Spurs. After dropping its first two games at home after the All-Star break, the club has gone 6-2. Knowing a setback tonight would lose all playoff tiebreakers with the Magic, a sense of urgency should be high in Miami for this game.

Detroit (37-36 SU, 38-33-2 ATS) at Denver

The Pistons opened the second-half of the season with an 8-1 run and that certainly helped their playoff push because they’ve been a mess lately. Since then, the club is 3-5 and they’ll finish off a five-game road trip on Tuesday at Denver.  Detroit blasted Denver 129-103 as a two-point underdog on Feb. 4 and the ‘over’ (209) was never in doubt. Fortunately for the Pistons, they catch the Nuggets in a tough scheduling spot. Denver is returning home from a four-game trip on the East Coast and then it heads on the road for a back-to-back set starting Thursday against the Rockets and Thunder. Denver is tied with Milwaukee with the best home record (30-6 SU, 23-13 ATS) and that includes an 11-2 record versus teams from the East. More importantly, the Nuggets have gone 9-4 ATS in those games.

Roll the Ball Out

There are three meaningless games in the Association on Tuesday and shootouts are expected in two of those contests.

Atlanta at New Orleans: These teams played to a wild affair a couple weeks ago and Atlanta captured a 128-116 home win over New Orleans. The ‘over’ (238) connected and the total has been pushed up to 240 for the rematch. The Hawks have watched the ‘over’ cash in seven of their last 10 on the road and they’re style certainly fits a shootout on any day but can you trust the Pelicans to score? New Orleans has been held to 96 and 90 points in its last two games and the limited minutes of Anthony Davis doesn't help your handicapping. If you’re leaning high, a first-quarter ‘over’ wager seems more doable since AD will likely see 10 minutes early.

Sacramento at Dallas: No overnight line was posted due to the ‘questionable’ status of Mavericks guard Luke Doncic. These teams just met on Mar. 21 and Sacramento earned a 116-100 win over Dallas and the ‘under’ (230) was never in doubt. The last two meetings in Texas both went ‘over’ as the Kings captured wins in each contest while scoring 120 and 114 points. Sacramento was once a great ‘over’ bet on the road but things have started to balance out. In 2019, the Kings have watched the ‘under’ go 11-4-1 in away games and the four ‘over’ tickets came against playoff teams. It's apparent that the club is only getting up for quality opponents and riding that angle might be the sound investment on Tuesday.

Washington at L.A. Lakers: The Wizards blasted the Lakers 128-110 on Dec. 16 and the ‘over’ (231 ½) cashed in that contest. Washington point guard John Wall had 40 points and 14 assists in that game but he’s ‘out’ for the season due to injury. Los Angeles has been hit by the injury bug as well and with playoffs out of sight, the club has been playing out the string. They did just win on Sunday, a 111-106 home win over Sacramento, but we haven’t seen the Lakers capture back-to-back wins since mid-January. In the second-half of the season, L.A. has gone 0-4 after a win and the ‘over’ went 3-1 while the defense was diced up for 128.5 PPG in those setbacks.

Chris David can be reached at [email protected]

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