We’re down to the home stretch of the NBA season. The All-Stars are back from Utah, the non-stars are back from their tropical vacations, and Jericho Sims is back from both.
Jericho Sims has no worries— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) February 21, 2023
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With only a few weeks before the post-season, ESPN is delivering two potential playoff previews Friday night. First, the second-place Milwaukee Bucks host the seventh-place Miami Heat. If the season ended today, that would also be the first-round matchup, provided Jimmy Butler & Company made it out of the play-in tournament. They’ve met before. Miami knocked out Milwaukee in the 2020 bubble in their way to the Finals, and the Bucks returned the favor with a first-round sweep in 2021, on their way to a title.
The second game features the young, upstart, 11th-place Oklahoma City Thunder visiting the older, superteam-in-the-making, fifth-place Phoenix Suns, though Devin Booker would disagree. The Thunder launched this new contending version of the Suns when they sent Chris Paul to Phoenix in 2020 for a package including former Warriors legend Kelly Oubre and a first-round pick that was later traded for current Warriors legend JaMychal Green. Though the teams are eight spots away from each other in the standings, OKC is only three games behind.
It’s a battle from the past and then a rematch from the future. Midwestern cities versus warm-weather places with a lot of retired people! Injured superstars (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant) versus spry, athletic All-Stars (Bam Adebayo, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander). And of course, same-game parlays.
Miami Heat at Milwaukee Bucks
Even without the Greek Freak, Milwaukee is a three-point favorite against Miami, with an over/under of 220 points. That’s befitting of two teams ranked third and fourth in defensive rating, respectively. Antetokounmpo is doubtful with a sprained wrist, but teammates Khris Middleton and Bobby Portis are back, and Marquette alumnus Jae Crowder will be making his season debut for the Bucks. For the Heat, Kyle Lowry is out, and Tyler Herro is probable with knee soreness. He did the three-point contest Saturday night, so he’s probably fine. Miami may also see new signings Kevin Love and Cody Zeller play.
Due to the injury uncertainty, there’s a lack of player props for same-game parlays. But we like one tea parlay right off the bat. These players are going to have fresh legs and be eager to score after a full week off. After a long layoff, offense comes back faster than defense, and the Bucks are missing their best defender. Give us the Heat to lead at halftime, but the Bucks to outlast them and lead at full time, plus the total going OVER 220.5 points, for +1000.
In fact, we’ll also take the Heat going over 113.5, with the Bucks going over 116.5, plus the Bucks on the moneyline, for +700. If we could wager on Portis blocking a Kevin Love three-point attempt, we would, but that bet is not available.
Oklahoma City Thunder at Phoenix Suns
Phoenix is an 8.5-point favorite, in part because the Thunder are playing on a back-to-back after an overtime loss to the Utah last night. They don’t have much time to think about their mistakes and their failure to catch the Jazz in the standings, because the Suns are focused on a title, even if Kevin Durant won’t return until next week. The total is 228.5.
We think the Suns’ Deandre Ayton is going to shoot a lot, both because the Thunder don’t have a center to stop him and because his touches are about to go way down with Durant on the court. We like a parlay of Devin Booker getting 30+ points, Ayton getting 20+ points, and the Suns on the moneyline for +450. In fact, we also like taking Ayton to score 21.5+, Chris Paul to deliver 11.5+ assists, but the scrappy Thunder to cover the spread, for a cool +1000. And if you bet on both Paul and Ayton to get double-doubles, and Ayton to get 2+ blocks, it’s worth +525.
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the elephant in the room: Dario Saric. Phoenix cast him aside at the deadline for Darius Bazley and tax savings, and this is the first time “Super Dario” can take revenge. (Side note: Basketball Reference claims his other nickname is “The Homie.”) Sadly, there are no parlays featuring Saric, but it’s a reason we like the Thunder to cover for their Homie.