James Harden and the Houston Rockets are traveling north to take on Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in a matchup of top 6 teams in basketball. Both teams are slightly banged up, but I expect both to see their key pieces play their normal minutes, which should make this game an entertaining one.
Rockets With Questions
The Rockets will be without Gerald Green and Eric Gordon is currently questionable. Green has been playing very few minutes of late, but Gordon is a starter for most contests. I am interested to see who Houston starts in place of Gordon, as they have used Daniel House, Iman Shumpert, and Kenneth Faried (with Tucker moving down to the 3 and Faried at the 4). Given this matchup, I would expect Shumpert to pick up the run if Gordon is ruled out because Shumpert is a good defender. I do not think the lack of Gordon would really change much at all for this team in a single-game setting.
Houston is coming into this game as winners of 14 of their last 16 games. This is a really impressive stretch that started around the time they began to get healthy. The addition of Chris Paul and Clint Capela really allow James Harden to become more efficient and improve the defense significantly. The only odd part about this dominant stretch is one of their 2 losses came to Memphis just 3 games ago, but this is not a concern here. Their other loss came to the KD-less Warriors at home by 2, which is just fine.
Bucks Top Seed in East
The Bucks are 5-2 in their last 7, but they have been rather banged up of late. Obviously I pointed out their 4 injuries for this game, but they have also missed Giannis for multiple games recently due to different small injuries. This shouldn’t affect their play down the stretch, but it does remind us to take their loss to the Cavs with a grain of salt.
The Bucks will be without Tony Snell, Donte Divincenzo, and Pau Gasol in this spot. All of these guys can see some run at times, but none are too difficult to replace. Nikola Mirotic will also be out, which does cause a little change that should probably introduce Ersan Ilyasova into the starting lineup and also feature more DJ Wilson. I think Mirotic is better than both of those players, but Mirotic was nothing more than a capable scorer on the Bucks before getting hurt because he hadn’t really been integrated into the offense too much.
This matchup should be great due to the defensive intensity that both these teams want to play with. The Bucks are the best defensive team in the league according to their defensive efficiency metric and that makes a lot of sense when you look into their personnel. Giannis is a physical freak that can block shots and jump passing lanes at all times. Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe don’t get enough credit for the length and focus they bring to the defensive end and Brook Lopez is having a career year on the defensive end of the ball. The Rockets are not going to grade out as great defensively simply due to their massive injury list this season that left them playing with Rivers at the 1 and Faried at the 5 instead of Paul and Capela, but this team is a top 10 defensive unit when fully healthy, which they basically are now besides Gordon. Nevermind the fact that Shumpert for Gordon would make them substantially better defensively anyways.
Bucks Win at Home
The Bucks are -4 point favorite in this spot and I think that number is relatively correct due to the individual matchups and the stretch that the Rockets are on. However, I think the Bucks are generally underrated, which goes to show with their 44-27 record ATS this season and I think that is the case here. I think the length of the Bucks is enough to disrupt Houston and give them trouble. I like the Bucks here -4 at home.