After so many down years, the balance of power has begun to tip decisively in favor of the Eastern Conference.
By net rating, four of the NBA’s five best teams are in the East this season, and the two betting favorites to take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy this June — the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks — square off on Thursday, March 30.
A Bucks win tonight would give them a four-game cushion over the Celtics for the No. 1 seed in the East, all but locking up homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. A win for Boston, however, would mean that the top seed is still very much in play.
Our NBA picks and predictions for Celtics vs. Bucks are backing Milwaukee to cement its control over the East standings with an emphatic win tonight.
Celtics vs Bucks best odds
Celtics vs Bucks picks and predictions
This is the kind of heavyweight clash that makes the regular season worthwhile. There's a good chance these two teams end up in the Eastern Conference Finals and given how dominant they've been to this point, that series may be viewed as the true NBA Finals.
It’s a shame the Milwaukee Bucks are on a back-to-back, but they’re still more than capable of delivering a knockout punch. The Bucks are simply rolling right now, having accumulated a 25-4 record over their last 29 games, with the league's best defense as well as an offense that is playing as well as anyone in the NBA right now.
They worked through some rough patches earlier in the season integrating Joe Ingles and Khris Middleton, but both are now firing on all cylinders. They combine to bring a level of pick-and-roll playmaking and shooting that takes Milwaukee to a scary new level.
On top of that, Jrue Holiday is playing the best offensive basketball of his career (including a career-best 51-point game last night) and Giannis Antetokounmpo has turned in another MVP-caliber campaign.
If there's any concern with the Bucks, it’s that their defense hasn’t been up to their usual standard as their offense has begun to click. Their defensive rating over the last two weeks would rank merely average, a far cry from their top-ranked defense on the season as a whole.
But dig a little deeper and there's a lot of noise in those numbers. In terms of opponent location effective field goal percentage, a Cleaning the Glass measurement that estimates how effective a defense would be by the spots on the court opposing teams get their shots, the Bucks are No. 1 with a bullet.
They get that top spot by being the stingiest rim defense in the NBA as well as allowing the fewest corner threes. In other words, the Bucks have seen a significant drop off in defensive rating despite denying opponents the two most high-value shots in basketball.
That suggests to me that while the Bucks’ offensive improvement is real, the defensive slide is mostly bad luck. That combo of denying threes while walling off the rim is going to be problematic for a Boston Celtics offense that has hit dry spells recently when perimeter shots don’t fall.
Just like Milwaukee, Boston’s offense is predicated on breaking the paint and kicking to an open 3-point shooter, but the Bucks’ paint defense and rim deterrence this season allow them to stay home on shooters better than ever before.
With Robert Williams III still questionable due to knee injury management, no single Celtics player can hope to deny Giannis the rim without help, ensuring that Milwaukee’s kick-outs will reap results.
The Celtics have been too inconsistent, and the Bucks are too good for me not to jump on a line this small at home.
My best bet: Bucks -2.5 (-105 at Pinnacle)
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Celtics vs Bucks spread analysis
If you listen to Boston sports radio, you’d think that the Celtics season was already done and dusted. They’ve struggled mightily at times, including an embarrassing losing effort to the Wizards on Tuesday.
And yet over the past two weeks, their +12.3-point differential ranks second best in the NBA per Cleaning the Glass, and they’re beating the spread by 5.4 points per game in that same span. They’re also 5-2 ATS in their last seven games on the road.
But while that number is impressive, it’s inflated by blowouts against bottom-feeding teams. Their previous six games featured only one team (the Kings) who are going to be in the playoffs and were littered with teams who are probably not going to make the play-in.
The Bucks haven’t had the toughest schedule either mind you, I just think their overall body of work has been much more consistent lately, and their offense looks truly unstoppable at times now. Dropping 149 on the tanking Pacers last night isn’t that meaningful in itself, but Jrue adding 51 points on 30 shots was just the latest indication that they’ve hit their stride.
I’m typically loath to lay a team with a rest disadvantage when both teams are top-quality, but the Bucks have made me a believer. They’re now 10-2 ATS in their last 12 games on the second night of a back-to-back.
Celtics vs Bucks Over/Under analysis
These two teams have notched offensive ratings in the 120s over the past two weeks, which even for the Celtics is a step above their season-long mark. This line is sizable at between 235.5 and 236.5 depending on the sportsbook, but there’s every chance these two teams get there.
The Celtics have played a series of high-scoring games lately, seeing the Over go 9-4 in their last 13 games and 4-0 in their previous four on the road.
The Bucks’ shooters have been much better in Milwaukee all season long, which has contributed to their dominant home record overall as well as the Over cashing in 19 of the Bucks’ last 28 home games.
Still, the deleterious effects of a back-to-back on a team that generates so much offense from the perimeter can’t be underestimated. The Under is 8-2 in the Bucks’ last 10 games playing on zero days of rest.
Both these teams seem to ratchet up the intensity when playing against other elite competitors. For the Celtics, that effort surfaces on the defensive end, where they've seemed worn down at times by the length of the NBA season.
That’s contributed to the Under cashing in 11 of Boston’s previous 15 road games against teams with a home winning percentage above .600.
Celtics vs Bucks betting trend to know
The Bucks are 10-2 ATS in their last 12 games playing on zero days' rest. Find more NBA betting trends for Celtics vs. Bucks.
Celtics vs Bucks game info
|Location:||Fiserv Forum Milwaukee, WI|
|Date:||Thursday, March 30, 2023|
|Tip-off:||7:30 p.m. ET|