Will the Milwaukee money train continue rumbling through the Eastern Conference bracket now that the Toronto Raptors are standing on the track?
The answer will start to become clear in the series opener Wednesday night (TNT, 8:30 ET).
As we discussed last week, backers of the top-seeded Bucks are rolling to riches so far in these playoffs.
- Milwaukee went 4-0 against the spread in its first round sweep of the Detroit Pistons. The Bucks covered the spread by 22¹/₂, 5¹/₂, 7 and 11 points against lines of -12¹/₂, -15¹/₂, -9, and -12. If the Bucks had been -20 in their two home games and -15 in their two road games, they still would have swept the board.
- Milwaukee went 4-1 ATS in the second round against the Boston Celtics. Point-spread covers were by 12¹/₂, 8¹/₂, 13, and 16¹/₂ points after the Bucks were shocked in their home opener. If Milwaukee had been -20 at home versus Boston, and -12 on the road, the Bucks still would have cashed three of five tickets.
Picking winners isn’t supposed to be this easy. Regular-season Bucks backers won at a 60 percent clip. Playoff supporters are at 89 percent through two rounds.
It’s difficult for No. 1 seeds to do well against the number because they’re typically priced to perfection. Oddsmakers and sharps have underestimated what that means for this young juggernaut.
There are already rumblings that topping Toronto will be a much tougher task. Pundits are saying Milwaukee “hasn’t played anybody yet.” Detroit wasn’t a playoff-caliber team even though it qualified. Boston rolled over once its destiny became clear. Kawhi Leonard is a championship-level player. Toronto doesn’t have the same types of chemistry issues that plagued Boston.
That’s true. But Toronto came very close to joining Boston on the sidelines — surviving this past Sunday’s seventh game of the Philadelphia series at the buzzer. That was a virtual tie in a game in which Toronto was laying 6¹/₂ points. The Raptors struggled to match second-round expectations whenever Joel Embiid of the Sixers wasn’t under the weather or hobbling on a bad knee. Giannis Antetokounmpo is a faster Embiid.
For now, betting markets are giving Milwaukee its due respect. The Bucks opened at -6¹/₂ at home against Toronto in Game 1. That suggests they’d be about -3 on a neutral court, and a short dog in Toronto. The fact that sharps didn’t bet the Bucks right out of the gate at -6¹/₂ is telling us they’d prefer the underdog Raptors at +7. The line would already be Milwaukee -7 globally if sharps wanted to lay the opener.
On the money line, William Hill has Milwaukee -260 to win Game 1 (the Raptors return +220), and -290 to win the whole series (the Raptors return +245). Accounting for vigorish, the market is saying the Bucks are about 70 percent to win the opener, 73 percent to advance to the NBA Finals.
Who ya’ got?