2023 NBA Playoffs: Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat series preview




Opening Price (via DraftKings): Milwaukee Bucks (-1000) Miami Heat (+650)

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There are many who will be tempted to invoke the memory of the Miami Heat team that went to the NBA Finals in the Orlando Bubble back in 2020 when analyzing this series. That Heat team knocked the Bucks out of the postseason in five games with elite shooting and defense, and there are many who believe ‘Heat Culture’ to be so real that they would overlook some clear and obvious flaws with this year’s team to make the case for Miami in this series.

They should not do that.

This season’s version of the Miami Heat is the most overvalued team in the NBA. Through 84 games, both regular season and play-in, Miami is 31-51-2 ATS which is the worst cover rate in the league by far. Still, the market believes in them at every turn, ignoring what has been an anemic offense and a flawed defense. It is a team that needed 31 points on 7-of-12 shooting from Max Strus and a 15-1 run in the play-in just to advance past the Chicago Bulls. Those types of performances are unlikely to repeat themselves in this series.

Milwaukee is an elite defensive team. It finished the regular season fourth in non-garbage time defensive efficiency (111.5), and second in both defensive rebounding rate (75.7%) and opponent free throw rate (17.6). Those are two areas that Miami – which finished the season 25th in non-garbage time offensive efficiency (113.3) – is reliant on.

The Heat had the eighth highest free throw rate in the league at 22.5 free throws made every 100 field goal attempts, and they finished third in points per 100 putback plays (120.0). The Bucks have the capability to eliminate both of those strengths. If that happens, then Miami is forced to rely on some of the weakest aspects of its offense. It is not an elite shooting team, as it finished 27th in 3-point percentage this season (34.8%), and it finished 22nd and 23rd respectively in transition offensive efficiency (123.9) and halfcourt offensive efficiency (96.7).

There has also been quite a bit of talk about Miami’s defense in recent days, but those who continue to believe that the Heat are still an elite defensive unit have not been paying attention. Erik Spoelstra has been forced to change his starting lineup in order to jumpstart his anemic offense, and that has led to a dip in defensive production.

From Feb. 13 to the end of the regular season Miami was 21st in non-garbage time defensive efficiency (118.6). Weaker defenders like Strus, Tyler Herro and Gabe Vincent are now in the starting lineup, and as a result the Heat’s most used starting lineup with that trio was in the 39th percentile in defensive efficiency (116.2). The Bucks have had some offensive issues this season without a doubt, but those are three weak defenders for the likes of Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton to pick on or go after when hunting for mismatches.

Spoelstra maximizes the roster he has every season, and he has done that once again with this Miami roster. However, those who believe this version of the Heat have some other gear because it made it to the Eastern Conference Finals a season ago need to pay closer attention to the large sample size of data that is showing us that this is an extremely flawed team.

Betting Analysis

This should be a quick series, but Milwaukee proved last season in its series with Chicago that it is capable of sleepwalking against an opponent it is much better than. Bettors will want to give themselves some wiggle room when it comes to the result, which means playing the series spread as opposed to an exact result.

Bettors can find the Bucks -2.5 games at -150 at DraftKings. It is five cents cheaper than playing the total games under 5.5 and is a bet that Milwaukee can end this game in four or five games. Miami has improved its offense with its new starting lineup, but at the cost of its defense. Milwaukee also has lineup versatility, and can put Giannis Antetokounmpo at center which is a lineup configuration that has outscored opponents by 10.1 points per 100 possessions with a 106.0 defensive rating. This should be a quick series for the top seed in the East.

Bet Recommendation: Bucks -2.5 Games (-150)