It's gut-check time for the NBA's best teams. The Milwaukee Bucks rampaged through the league all season playing a style the entire world knew wasn't sustainable in the playoffs. The Los Angeles Lakers refused to optimize their lineups and intentionally sacrificed wins and reps for the sake of locker room harmony.
Well, now the Bucks are two games away from elimination. The Lakers aren't in quite as dire a situation, but the training wheels have to come off against an opponent as lethal as Houston. The fact that these teams had the two best records in basketball no longer matters. It's time for them to empty their bags of tricks and beat teams that were never supposed to challenge them in the first place. Will they be able to do so? Here are today's best bets
Lines via William Hill Sportsbook
Miami Heat vs. Milwaukee Bucks: Heat +5
The scary thing for Milwaukee isn't necessarily the 2-0 deficit. It's the fact that they've already tinkered with many of the theoretical solutions to their problems against Miami... and they aren't working. They tried Giannis Antetokounmpo at center. They got outscored. They tried switching a bit more defensively. The Bucks are so inexperienced with that defensive style that they haven't been able to execute it properly. Short of playing Giannis 45 minutes, there isn't an obvious solution anymore. The Heat have just outplayed them. This line would make more sense at Heat -5.
Houston Rockets vs. Los Angeles Lakers: Rockets +6.5
The Lakers are the sensible series pick, but they are extremely vulnerable in Game 1. The shooting momentum they gained against Portland is likely gone with almost a week of rest. Frank Vogel hasn't been forced to fix his rotations yet, so in all likelihood, many of the wrong players (JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo, J.R. Smith) will get minutes. The Rockets are going to punch the Lakers in the mouth in this one. The onus will fall on the Lakers to respond.
Houston Rockets vs. Los Angeles Lakers: Over 225
Mike D'Antoni has coached eight Game 1's for the Rockets. In those games, Houston has averaged 113.6 points per game (a more impressive feat when you remember most weren't aided by the all-offense setting of the bubble). That number jumps to over 117 if you don't include games against the Warriors, an opponent uniquely built to defend them. Something about Houston's extreme shot-profile catches opponents off guard defensively in series openers. The Lakers are especially susceptible to that given the size they prefer to play with. If they start a true center, the Rockets are going to get as many open 3-pointers as they want.