After a thrilling first evening of NBA In-Season Tournament quarterfinal action, the second night of knockout tournament play sees the East Wildcard New York Knicks headed to Wisconsin to take on the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks went 4-0 in the group stage, while the Knicks' lone loss was the very first tournament game against these same Bucks.
Both teams have made huge strides since that rusty opener, and while the NBA odds favor Milwaukee, I wouldn’t bury New York just yet.
Our NBA picks and predictions for the In-Season Tournament quarterfinal on Tuesday, December 5 between the Knicks and the Bucks believe that this is closer to a 50/50 proposition than odds suggest.
For more angles on this clash, check out Jon Metler's Knicks vs. Bucks props.
Knicks vs Bucks odds
Knicks vs Bucks predictions
The Knicks haven’t hit the same offensive highs they reached last season just yet, but their defense has been a revelation. There’s an improved effort from just about everyone on the roster, with 48 minutes of strong center play from Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein forming a solid foundation.
While the Knicks won't shoot you out of the gym, they will bang with you, and wear you down. They’re a physical team with great secondary and tertiary playmaking, so when it all works, it looks fluid and tough to stop.
The Bucks are, of course, much more talented — at least on the top end. There’s no argument that the Bucks have the two best players in this game with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard in the fold. But it’s a worthwhile thought experiment to wonder how many of the next best nine players on either team are Bucks.
The tournament knockout stage is fascinating to dissect because there’s truly never been anything like it. While the second play-in game is win or go home, it comes at the end of a long season when teams are fully baked, and it usually doesn’t feature the best teams in the NBA.
Nor are these similar to a Game 7 because this is also the first game with stakes that these two teams will play against each other this year. So, the tit-for-tat, game-to-game adjustments that some coaches excel at are off the table.
Tom Thibodeau has infamously underperformed as a playoff coach, but in part that’s due to the way he gets his teams to overperform in the regular season. I have little doubt however that in a single-game context, the Knicks will be well prepared.
While he gets his teams to compete every night and has a solid opening game plan, over a seven-game series, some coaches have poked holes in his strategies. Wednesday being single elimination takes that weakness off the board.
Adrian Griffin, meanwhile, is a relative unknown.
He’s inexperienced, and what I’ve seen from him so far has not been encouraging. For one, he had the scrap his hyper-aggressive defensive scheme brought over from his time as a Toronto Raptors coach in favor of a more conservative one more befitting the limited perimeter defenders on his roster. That he had to do so after a quiet revolt by his own players was a red flag.
The Bucks’ offense has also been much clunkier than anticipated. There are far too few actions that leverage Lillard and Giannis’s many synergistic strengths. It might seem ridiculous to criticize a team that is 14-6, but they haven’t been convincing.
Per Cleaning the Glass, a team with the Bucks' +2.3-point differential would be expected to win 11.4 of their 20 games with average clutch luck. The Knicks, at +5.8, would expect to win 12.8 of their 19.
The Bucks have skated by because of their outstanding clutch play, and that by Lillard specifically. Dame has been the best clutch player in the NBA, but Jalen Brunson is also one of the few players shooting 50% or above from the field and over 40% on threes in clutch situations.
Clutch play is rarely predictive within a season, and even less so from year to year. The Bucks finally got burned in their recent overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls, after playing tight ones with the Portland Trail Blazers and Washington Wizards among others.
These two teams are much closer in quality than the odds suggest. While I expect the Bucks to separate themselves from the Knicks closer to June, right now this is closer to a toss-up. With that in mind, the Knicks moneyline at +195 is incredible value.
My best bet: Knicks moneyline (+195 at ComeOn!)
Knicks vs Bucks same-game parlay
Because I’m already going after a plus-money wager for my best bet on the Knicks moneyline, I’m being more conservative with my two additions to my same-game parlay for Tuesday’s quarterfinal matchup. To that end, I like both the star guards in this one, Brunson and Lillard, to both chip in at least 20 points for their respective squads.
Brunson has averaged 24.9 points on the season, and a hot streak from downtown has seen him up to 27 per contest over his last five games. Lillard meanwhile continues to thrive from the foul line, with a significant portion of his 25.5 points per game coming from the charity stripe.
As previously mentioned, both players have been thriving in the clutch, and as I expect a reasonably close game, they should have the opportunity to cash in late in the action even if they take a more deferential role to start things off.
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Knicks vs Bucks spread and Over/Under analysis
The spread for Tuesday opened at -6.5 in favor of the Bucks, but that line has shortened some in the intervening hours to as little as -4.5 at some sportsbooks.
The Knicks are a defense-first team that is knocking on the door of being an elite offense. They also have a lot of options to go to if they don’t get off to a great start. The Bucks pretty much have to play the rotation they have, and don’t have the luxury of excising a Malik Beasley or a Cameron Payne from serious minutes if either has an off night.
New York is a respectable 10-7-2 against the spread overall, and 6-3-1 ATS on the road. The Bucks are just 3-6-1 ATS at home.
The total has seen some modest fluctuation, opening between 222 and 223.5, but rising as high as 226 at some sportsbooks.
The plan for this iteration of the Bucks was to be an elite offense and a passable defense. That vision has slowly started to take shape over the past two weeks. Milwaukee is up to sixth in offense, and they’re 20th in defense.
Both, obviously, make them a team likely to play in high-scoring games. The Over is a staggering 13-7 in Milwaukee’s games so far.
Both these teams can exploit each other's weaker guard defenses as well. Where this game might get bogged down is in the paint. The Knicks play at a snail’s pace, and both teams have strong rim protection that could turn halfcourt offense into a battle of attrition.
Knicks vs Bucks betting trend to know
The Bucks are 3-6-1 ATS in their last 10 home games. Find more NBA betting trends for Knicks vs. Bucks.
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Knicks vs Bucks game info
|Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, WI
|Tuesday, December 5, 2023
|7:30 p.m. ET
Knicks vs Bucks latest injuries
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