Philadelphia 76ers vs. Milwaukee Bucks Prediction
Since it’s the season opener, I’m trying a new prop: 1st quarter race to 20 points. Milwaukee is equipped to win this race at a slightly higher rate than the odds demand.
Reigning MVP Joel Embiid remains the offensive engine of this franchise, but James Harden’s absence completely changes his style. The following chart depicts Embiid’s roll man and post up usage and efficiency during the 2021 (without Harden) and 2023 (with Harden) seasons. I didn’t include 2022 because of the mid-season trade.
As you can see, Embiid slashed his post up volume and doubled his roll man usage with Harden, which led to a surge in points per possession efficiency for the big man. Embiid’s roll man boost massively increased his playmaking effectiveness too, as he raised his assist percentage by over six points while slightly cutting his turnover percentage.
Tyrese Maxey has shown promise as a scorer and off-ball shooter, but he is light-years behind Harden as a pick-and-roll passer. Therefore, Embiid’s shot quality will drastically suffer as a result, and he may return to his relatively inefficient back-to-the-basket game. That’s concerning considering Milwaukee’s exceptional interior defense. Brook Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo both ranked in the top ten of rim points saved per 75 possessions (via Basketball Index), and they have the size to hang with Embiid in the post.
It’s not only Embiid that will be affected either; Harden’s playmaking bestowed wide open looks to Tobias Harris, PJ Tucker, and Tyrese Maxey too. Overall, Philadelphia’s offense will struggle out of the gate trying to find their offensive identity, and Milwaukee’s formidable rim protection certainly makes it more difficult for the 76ers.
On the other end, is there a better offensive duo than Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo? Both apply tremendous pressure on opposite ends of the half-court, which completely stretches out the defense. Embiid will be forced to hedge the ball screen due to Lillard’s pull-up jump shot, so Antetokounmpo’s roll likely devastates Philadelphia here. His improvement as a quick decision passer off of the catch will punish sagging defenders, which is exactly why Milwaukee acquired three-point shooter Malik Beasley.
Finally, Khris Middleton appeared to be healthy during Milwaukee’s playoff loss – a great sign considering his injury troubles. He’s a high-level creator that can drain pull-up jumpers and three-pointers, which adds another dimension to the offense.
Overall, Milwaukee’s offense projects to be considerably more lethal than Philadelphia’s, and the Bucks own the defensive weapons to limit Embiid. Look for the Bucks, who finished 3rd in first quarter net rating last year, to start out firing on all cylinders and beat Philadelphia to 20 points.
Philadelphia 76ers vs. Milwaukee Bucks Prediction: 1st Quarter Race to 20 Points – Bucks win (-160 DK)
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Philadelphia 76ers vs. Milwaukee Bucks Best Odds
The revamped Milwaukee Bucks are sizable six-point favorites and hold an ugly -220 moneyline. Philadelphia must win this game about 33 percent of the time based on their +198 odds; otherwise, the bet will not have a positive expected value.
Philadelphia 76ers Starting Lineup
Milwaukee Bucks Starting Lineup
Philadelphia 76ers vs. Milwaukee Bucks Injuries
James Harden will not be participating in this matchup due to his ongoing trade request war with Daryl Morey. Besides Harden, both teams will have their full rotations available for this season opener.
Philadelphia 76ers vs. Milwaukee Bucks Key Matchups
Fouls & Free Throws
If Lillard, Antetokounmpo, or Embiid pick up a couple quick fouls, their swift removal would change the whole dynamics of the prop. It would simultaneously pull the offensive engines and lead to free throws for the other team, which inherently hold a massive expected points per possession. Milwaukee must subsequently avoid foul trouble and contest Embiid’s shots without fouling.
Season Opener Shooting Rust
Because 20 points isn’t a massive total, one horrible shooting stretch could sink both teams’ chances. Therefore, targeting the team with superior shot quality is wise because it reduces the chance of rust kicking in. With James Harden out and Milwaukee owning a dynamic Lillard-Antetokounmpo pick-and-roll, the Bucks should secure better shot quality than the 76ers here, which further boosts confidence in them.