The Milwaukee Bucks visit the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday, January 21st in a fun clash between two solid playoff teams. Unfortunately, neither team’s fans will likely see either team show up at full strength.
The Celtics pace the NBA Eastern Conference with a 33-12 record, followed by a four-team scrum of teams all within a game of each other. The Bucks, Cavs, Nets, and Sixers all sit between 29-16 and 28-17, so the playoff seedings are up for grabs. The Sixers are currently healthy and hot while the Nets are now injured and fading, as happens with them every season in their Super Team phase. It will probably leave the Bucks and the Cavs battling for the second and third seeds, though NBA team efforts can get a little strange down the stretch as potential playoff matchups come into focus.
Right here right now, the contenders are all trying to balance health and winning. The Cavs have modestly outplayed the Bucks this season, but expect the Bucks to open as small home favorites, pending injury absences. New sportsbook customers can take advantage of first-bet-free insurance with Ohio sports betting promos. Sign up, make a deposit, and place a wager. If the bet cashes, collect the proceeds! If it loses, Caesars will replace the loss with free bets up to a maximum of $1250.
Here is a quick look at each team headed into the matchup:
Bucks vs Cavaliers Preview
Milwaukee checks in at 29-16, good for second in the East and fourth overall in the league. FiveThirtyEight finds that about right as they rank the Bucks fifth overall and project them to finish at 50-32 with an 11% chance to make the finals and a 5% shot at taking home the trophy. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index does not have the same love, as Milwaukee’s 2.9 BPI places them ninth in the league, though their 49.1 win projection is pretty similar. They only give the Bucks a 3.1% shot in the East and a 1.5% title shot, however.
Caesars prices the Bucks at +800 to win the title and +380 in the East, so no great deal here according to either system.
Giannis Antetokounmpo still leads the way, though he has missed the last week and ten games overall with injuries and may or may not play on Saturday. He averages a career-high 31 points per game (PPG) along with 11.9 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. His advanced stats show a whiff of decline here and there from his lofty peak. Giannis’ True Shooting Percentage (“what a player’s shooting percentage would be if we accounted for free throws and 3-pointers. True Shooting Percentage = Total points / [(FGA + (0.44 x FTA)]”) is 58.4% this season, his lowest mark since 2015-16, and his Real Plus Minus (“Player’s estimated on-court impact on team performance, measured in net point differential per 100 offensive and defensive possessions. RPM takes into account teammates, opponents and additional factors”) stands at 5.16, down from 8.18 last year and a peak of 10.3 in 2019-20. All that said, Giannis is still a superstar, his “down” RPM still ranks him 15th in the league, and his Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 27.42 ranks 5th. Giannis is +900 to win MVP at Caesars, fourth after Luka Doncic, Nikola Jokic, and Jason Tatum.
The Bucks beat the Raptors, 130-122. It's the first time the Bucks have scored 130 points in back-to-back games this season.
Jrue Holiday led the way for Milwaukee with 37, becoming the first Bucks guard with consecutive 35-point games since Michael Redd in 2006. pic.twitter.com/Of2mKWpO2T
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 18, 2023
Kris Middleton’s nearly-lost season has hindered the Bucks even more. He has only suited up for seven games all season, none since December 15th. He is currently in rehab and could suit up any time, but the real focus is getting his ailing knee healthy for the playoffs, so even if he plays vs the Cavs on Saturday it will be on very reduced minutes. Jrue Holiday has played well but has missed 11 games himself. He scored 35 and 37 points in the last two games in the absence of Giannis and has averaged 19.4 PPG overall to go with his team-high 7.4 APG.
The best health news for the Bucks is the return of Brook Lopez after he only played 13 games in 2021-22. At age 34 Lopez is knocking down 3’s at a career-high 40.1% to go with a career-high 2.5 blocks per game.
Cleveland’s best squad since LeBron left town is just a game behind the Bucks at 28-17. BPI gives them a 4.7 rating, good for fourth in the league, with a 9.5% chance to make the Finals and a 5.2% title shot. That is quite the discrepancy with FiveThirtyEight, which ranks the Cavs 12th with just 6% and 2% chances. Caesars odds of +2000 and +750 lean more toward the BPI numbers.
The Cavs made a huge trade in the offseason, acquiring Donovan Mitchell from Utah to add a superstar on top of their solid all-star-level core of Darius Garland, Eric Mobley, and Jared Allen. They gave up a ton to get Mitchell, but the trade has worked out extremely well as Mitchell is scoring a career-high 28.4 PPG on 62.3% TS%, also his best ever. His 6.88 RPM ranks 6th in the league. To put that in perspective, the only guys ahead of him are Tatum, Jokic, Luka, Embiid, and LeBron, pretty great company.
Unfortunately, Mitchell may not play on Saturday due to a groin strain on Monday vs New Orleans. He’s young at 26, but the Cavs will not needlessly risk their superstar in a regular season game in January.
Garland has seen his usage drop a shade with Mitchell the lead guy now, but still averages 21.4 PPG and 7.8 APG. Mobley (14.5 PPG, 8.8 RPG) and Allen (13.9 PPG, 9.8 RPG) are super solid young Bigs.
It really all depends on who suits up. Any or all of Giannis, Middleton, and Mitchell might play, though Middleton will likely not have a big impact in his first or second game back after a long layoff. The Cavs are only 9-13 away from home this season and no Mitchell could pose a serious problem. Odds will come out Friday night pending some health clarity.