Free Picks: Bucks vs. Heat, 2021 Eastern Conference Playoffs Round 1

Alex Murray
Alex Murray
NBA Free Picks – Best Bets of the Week
Bucks, Heat Kick Off Rematch Of 2020 Playoff Series
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Miami Heat: Bucks wins series, 4-0

One of the most highly anticipated series of the first round of the 2021 NBA postseason ended up being the biggest dud of the lot. The third seed in the Eastern Conference, the Milwaukee Bucks, made quick work of the sixth seed in the East, the Miami Heat, taking care of their business in the minimum four games as they perpetrated the first sweep of these playoffs.

Series Results: Bucks wins series, 4-0

This series kicked off the 2021 NBA playoffs on the 22nd of May with a thrilling back-and-forth clash that went into overtime and ended on a game-winning mid-range jumper from Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton. Unfortunately, the Heat never sniffed the Bucks again after that. They lost Game 2 by 34 points, Game 3 by 29, and the deciding Game 4 by 17.

Not even with the embarrassment of a looming sweep could get the Heat to muster up enough to get one win. Jimmy Butler is looking at an especially long offseason after allowing himself to be rendered utterly ineffective to the tune of 14.5 points a game on 29.7 percent from the field and 26.7 percent from deep. At least he averaged 7.0 dimes a game, but I doubt that stat will provide much solace for Butler.

The Bucks, meanwhile, exorcised some serious playoff demons after this Heat team dismantled the Bucks in five games last season. Milwaukee is the first team to emerge with a second round berth, and will now have the advantage of added rest against the winner of the Brooklyn Nets vs. Boston Celtics series, which will almost certainly be the Nets. Bucks vs. Brooklyn could be one of the best series of the postseason and a tough NBA pick.

Game 1

May 22, 2:00 p.m., Fiserv Forum

Well, despite the fact that the Miami Heat won that 2020 playoff series in the bubble pretty handily, they come in as big underdogs in the series, as well as in this first game. The Heat dismantled the Giannis Antetokounmpo-led attack of the Milwaukee Bucks in that series, taking them down in five games as they were able to render the Greek Freak ineffective.

Obviously, these two teams have changed over the past year, though not as much as you might think. The Bucks bring back essentially the same crew with the notable additions of starting point guard and league-renowned “most underrated player” Jrue Holiday as well as forward Bobby Portis, who has been quite a pleasant surprise for Milwaukee off the bench this season.

The acquisition of Holiday has proven especially significant, as it gives Giannis a player that can run an effective pick-and-roll, knock down open triples with efficiency, and get his own shot at the rim when needed. Not to mention Holiday’s value on the defensive end, which might even be higher than what he brings at the other end.

It remains unclear how the teams will match up, but I can certainly see Holiday eliminating one of Miami’s white knights (Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson) in each game of this series, which would be a slight issue for the Heat. Those youngsters aren’t the key, however.

The key, obviously, will be the duo of Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, who both showed that they could get whatever they wanted against whoever Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenholzer wanted to throw at them last year. Bam averaged 17.2 points and 12.0 boards on 60 percent shooting from the field while Jimmy put up 23.4 points, 5.8 boards, and 1.8 steals on a 53/48/87 shooting line.

Butler has shown an uncanny ability to boost his game when the situation calls for it, even carrying his team to a couple of wins against the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers in last year’s Finals. This series won’t be as easy as last season for the Heat, but we like their underdog spread in Game 1 as one of our best bets for today.

Giannis has amassed a ton of regular season accolades, an almost unprecedented amount over a two-year span, in fact. But he has not played like the MVP or the Defensive Player of the Year in the playoffs as teams hone in on his glaring weaknesses and use them against him and his team. His matchup with the Heat’s perimeter guys is one of the reasons we like Miami for our NBA pick here.

He has improved his jumper, though it is easily bothered. If he can get hot from deep as we’ve seen him do in a few games this season, he could definitely steal an extra game or two for the Bucks, which would also likely mean stealing the series as well. He still struggles with strips and charges, however, and the Heat are built to do both of those things.

The loss of Jae Crowder has been a big blow for Miami, but they did get Trevor Ariza, who is a similar type of pesky, long perimeter defender. Ariza is a little bit older, but he’s been around the block a time or two and will bring another level of experience that supplements what they’ve already got from Andre Iguodala. And then of course, there’s Butler and Bam as well.

All of these guys are hustlers and hounding defenders and they’re built to stop Giannis: Miami takes 0.96 charges a game, third in the NBA, they contest 24.6 three-point shots per game, also third in the NBA, and they recover 3.2 loose balls on defense per game, fourth in the association. We’ll see if Giannis can figure out Erik Spoelstra’s defensive schemes, but for now, we like the Heat to cover their +4.5 NBA point spread at solid -111 NBA odds as one of our top picks.


Game 2 (Bucks leads 1-0)

May 24, 07:30 p.m., Fiserv Forum

The Milwaukee Bucks came away with a 109-107 overtime win over the Miami Heat, who are quickly becoming their biggest rivals. The Heat, however, did cover the +4.5 NBA point spread we took for them, so it’s kind of like we were all winners in that Saturday afternoon clash.

However, despite the fact that Milwaukee escaped with the Game 1 win, they can’t have felt good about how they got it. Giannis Antetokunmpo, the holes in whose game the Heat used to take Milwaukee down last year, was thought to have taken a step in the right direction this year, but if his Game 1 performance is any indication, those claims were greatly exaggerated.

He improved his three-point shooting during the regular season, but he went 0-for-3 from deep on Saturday afternoon. That wasn’t the only area of the floor from which he was struggling to hit shots though, unfortunately. He went just 10-for-27 from the field overall, which isn’t awful for most high-volume guys, but when you consider Giannis mostly plays around the rim (leading to a 57 percent regular season mark) it looks a lot worse.

Giannis’ struggles at the charity stripe continued as well. After shooting at 63 percent from the free throw line during his MVP campaign last year, he boosted his number up to nearly 69 percent during the 2020-2021 campaign. Those gains were not apparent in Game 1. The Heat made it a point to hack-a-Greek Freak early and often, sending Antetokounmpo to the line for a game high 13 free throws.

He hit just four of those, and one of those misses occurred because Antetokunmpo went over the allotted 10 seconds each player gets before each foul shot. Apparently it had been something opposing coaches had complained about throughout the season, so officials were acutely aware on Saturday.

Antetokounmpo also led his team with five turnovers, and while you might say, “wow, Giannis played this bad and the Bucks still won? That’s great,” that is not quite the case. They really got bailed out by a big-time shot from Khris Middleton with less than one second left in overtime.

While Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo were crucial and active on the defensive end, the Heat’s dynamic duo struggled mightily on the other side, going a combined 8-for-37. That’s under 22 percent from the field, not to mention Jimmy’s game-high six turnovers.

Those guys can’t play much worse than that, which is a big reason we like Miami to cover their underdog spread again in Game 2 as our best bet for today. Butler is one of those guys that has kept a chip on his shoulder long after he’s been able to theoretically flick that thing off. It drives him, much in the same way it did for guys like Kobe and MJ.

He will take personal offense at his performance on Saturday, despite the fact that his blow by of Giannis on the final play of regulation forced overtime and brought him to a 6-for-9 mark on go-ahead or game-tying shots in the final minute in the playoffs, the best such mark over the past 25 years. He will come back angry, so we like him to cover the over on his 24.5 points prop at solid -111 NBA odds (10bet) as another top pick for this clash.

And a big game from Butler usually means success for his team, especially in the playoffs. Miami has also gone 4-0-1 against the spread in their last five games following a straight up loss, and have gone 6-0 ATS in their last half dozen games following one where they gave up 100+ points. Milwaukee is also 1-7 ATS in their last eight games overall.

This has the makings of a long and exciting series, so we can’t imagine the Heat getting dominated here and going down 2-0. We like the Heat to cover their +4.5 point spread at solid –109 NBA odds as another of our top picks for Monday night. If you’re really feeling froggy, go for their +160odds moneyline, but we’ll play it safe here.



Game 3 (Bucks leads series 2-0)

May 27, 07:30 p.m., American Airlines Arena

That Game 2 loss for the Miami Heat was really rough to watch. They just got bum-rushed right from the opening tip, allowing a whopping 46 points in the first frame. After that, they were never able to get anywhere close to back in that game, eventually losing by 34 points while failing to top the 100-point threshold.

Sometimes you lose games where adjustments can be made to improve, or maybe you got unlucky somewhere, or maybe you had a bad scheme idea for a certain player or team, but sometimes, you just stunk, and it’s best to throw the tape away and start fresh. Have a short memory, like a goldfish. A goldfish is the happiest animal in the world because it’s got a ten-second memory, at least that’s what Ted Lasso said.

Jimmy Butler was slightly better than he was last game, but he only took 10 shots all game. You can charge that to the fact that he didn’t play his normal allotment of minutes after the team went down by so much so early, but still, once you feel your team slipping, that’s when you need to take charge and go get yourself a few buckets at the rim or some easy points at the charity stripe to perk your team up.

He was unable to do that, and the fact that Bam Adebayo continues to struggle with his offensive efficiency isn’t doing the team any favors either. It doesn’t often happen that a team’s two best players go ice cold at the same time, but that’s what’s going on here for Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra and his comrades.

Thankfully for them, they get to return to the familiarity and heat of South Beach for the next two games, and our NBA prediction is that this home stand will start out fruitfully for the Heat in Game 3 on Thursday night. The good news is, as Butler said in his post Game 2 presser, Miami can’t play much worse, but also, Milwaukee can’t play much better, which is why we like the Heat as one of our top picks today.

Despite the fact that Miami is second in contested three-point shots with 27.5 per game so far in the postseason, the Bucks have been raining threes, hitting a franchise playoff record 22 of them at a 42 percent clip in Game 2. Good shots and contested ones will always return to the mean, though: an NBA player can only miss so many open jump shots, but his luck on contested jumpers is not limitless either, which is why we like the Heat as our  NBA pick here.

A better effort from the so-called ‘other guys’ wouldn’t hurt the Heat either, as the trio of Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, and Kendrick Nunn combined to go just 7-for-25 from the field in Game 2. When Butler plays, the Heat are also 7-4 straight up following a loss of 15+ points since he arrived in Miami before last season.

This is pretty much a must-win game for the Heat, so if they don’t pull out all the stops here in Game 3, they might as well pack it in. That 2020 run in the bubble may have been a fluke, but I’m not ready to believe that just yet, I’m still clutching to the notion that  the Heat led by Butler and Bam and surrounded by that bevy of shooters can be successful.

They’ve got a lot of dogs on that team too, but those canines have yet to bare their teeth in this series. I’d expect them to do just that back in Miami on Thursday night with thousands of fans cheering them on. It’s also worth noting that most of these guys haven’t played a playoff game in front of the Miami home crowd, and you would think that someone like Butler has been chomping at the bit for this opportunity ever since he joined the squad in 2019.

Spoelstra is one of the NBA’s best coaches, so we’d expect him to get together with his staff and figure out a crafty way to get back on track here. The improved play of pretty much everyone but Dewayne Dedmon would also greatly help their cause. We like things to finally go right for Miami in Game 3, so we’re going with their moneyline at lovely +100 NBA odds as our best bet for today.

BET ON MIAMI HEAT TO WIN (+100, 888sport)

Game 4 (Heats leads series 3-0)

May 29, 1:30 p.m., American Airlines Arena

They opened up the 2021 postseason with a thriller last Saturday afternoon, and it seems very possible that the series will come to an end exactly a week later this Saturday afternoon (or morning, for those on the West Coast). After having the breaks beat off of them by the Milwaukee Bucks throughout Game 2, one would have thought that the gritty Heat would have taken exception.

Apparently, that’s not so. Just like in Game 2 in Milwaukee, the Bucks came out in Game 3 in Miami and laid a devastating blow on the underdog Heat, taking another double-digit lead into the first break while holding their opponents to an ugly 14-point first quarter performance.

The Heat kept it interesting going into halftime, but in the third quarter they were once again dominated, getting outscored 37-24 in the frame. For the second straight game, they lost all four quarters, failing to chip into a nearly 30-point Milwaukee lead even with the benches emptied for both teams. That shows a lack of heart and drive more than a lack of ability.

But the Bucks are a much more talented and much deeper squad, and through three games they have also been playing harder and with more toughness than their opponents. With all three of those on Milwaukee’s side, it’s no wonder they’re up 3-0. The Heat certainly do not have enough left in the tank to make a full comeback in this series, but I’m going to continue believing that Jimmy Butler will not let his team get swept.

I mean, heck, even the Bucks snagged one game from the Heat in their 2020 playoff series, and that came out without the services of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Butler has struggled all series, and that continued in Game 3, though to a lesser extent. He shot a little bit better, going 7-for-17, and he only had two turnovers, but he was also a -26 on the night, which was a game-low.

At least Bam Adebayo began to show signs of life, shooting 50 percent from the field while contributing 17 points, eight boards, and a quartet of dimes. The starting backcourt of Goran Dragic and Duncan Robinson were invisible, however, going a combined 4-for-22 from the field. Tyler Herro wasn’t much better, coming off the bench to go 4-for-10 for just nine points.

It’s Game 4 now, so it’s all on the line, and I believe that Butler and Erik Spoelstra have the inspiration and scheme, respectively, to at least steal one game before they go fishin’. It would also be ideal not to get eliminated and have your opponent celebrating their series win in your building. It’s probably a terrible idea, but we’re going to be going with Miami for our NBA pick for the fourth straight game in this series.

I just couldn’t bear to side with the Bucks in Game 4, only for the Heat to vindicate me by avoiding the sweep. The so-called ‘other guys’ for the Heat couldn’t play much worse than they did in Game 3, and the reemergence of Adebayo was also encouraging in Game 3. I’m a glass half full kinda guy right now.

Milwaukee also just learned that they will be without Donte DiVIncenzo for the remainder of the playoffs, though that’s not a very big blow. His starting status was pretty much just nominal, as he was putting in a meager 2.7 points on 16 percent shooting in 23 minutes per game through the first three contests.

Nevertheless, I can certainly see the Bucks taking their foot off the gas a little bit here after having trounced the Heat so thoroughly in Games 2 and 3, which is why we like the Heat as one of our top picks for this loaded slate of Saturday NBA playoffs clashes.

While we’ve been riding the Miami underdog point spread in the first three games, going 1-2 with that tactic, I figured that at this point, there’s no point in betting on a spread: if the Heat don’t win on Saturday, they’ll probably lose by double-digits. So, if you don’t like the Heat to get it done, a -9.5 NBA point spread for the Bucks will offer a ton of value and should prove profitable.

But not me. I predicted the Heat would win the series before it started and clung to that belief even after Game 2, so I’m going to go down with the ship and go for full value on my long shot call here for a Miami win in Game 3. We’re going to take the Heat’s moneyline at big-time +170 NBA odds that give this wager enough value to make it one of our best bets for today.

BET ON MIAMI HEAT TO WIN (+170 odds, Betway)

Alex is an alumnus of Ryerson University's RTA Sport Media program, a contributing NHL, NBA, and MLB writer in the team. He has been writing on sports, betting, and fantasy contests for several years, including pitstops as an NFL Editor for theScore and as one of the lead NBA news writers for fantasy sports site FantasyPros. As a lifelong athlete, bettor, and sports fan, Alex is uniquely qualified to help you reach the sports betting success that you've always dreamed of and your wife never believed you could achieve.