Three at 3: Bucks a Whole New Team Under Budenholzer

Zachary Cohen
Sports Illustrated

Here are our three top plays for Friday night's NBA action.

1. New York Knicks at Brooklyn Nets (-3.5)

7:30 pm ET

Scroll to continue with content

Knicks fans might not want to hear it, but little brother isn’t so little anymore. This year’s Brooklyn team is no longer an Eastern Conference punching bag. The Nets might be coming off a tough opening loss to the Detroit Pistons, but they had their chances to win and should get more out of D’Angelo Russell than they did in that game—he had only eight points in 25 minutes. Many members of the media view Brooklyn as a borderline playoff team in the East, but the same can’t be said for New York. The Knicks blew out the Hawks on opening night, but Atlanta is likely going to be one of the three worst teams in basketball this year. Meanwhile, New York was playing in front of an energetic crowd in its home opener and fed off that all night. But the Knicks winning the way they did and the Nets coming up short against the Pistons only means that you can grab the Nets for a better value tonight. Brooklyn’s team is better top to bottom and it’d be more surprising if the Knicks kept this to a one-possession game than if the Nets blew them out. Brooklyn is snapping its four-game losing streak (straight up and against the spread) against New York tonight.

The Pick: Nets -3.5

2. Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Clippers (PK)

10:30 pm

Oklahoma City impressed a lot of people with the way it played against the Golden State Warriors on opening night. The Thunder covered as a 13-point road underdog without superstar Russell Westbrook, and they now face a Clippers team that lost its home opener to the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday. With little margin for error in the Western Conference playoff race, expect L.A. to go all-out to avoid dropping two home games to start the year. Look for Los Angeles to come out with plenty of intensity, and keep an eye on Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell here. These are two of the fiercest competitors in basketball and they’ll know the importance of coming out and getting a win on Friday. Beverley is going to hound the Thunder’s guards all night, and Harrell will do his best to disrupt Oklahoma City center Steven Adams—who has a major advantage in size. With those two setting the tone defensively, Lou Williams and Tobias Harris will be able to do what they do best: put points on the board. And if Harrell isn’t getting the job done then Los Angeles won’t hesitate to turn to Boban Marjanovic inside. The tantalizing big man has posted incredible per-minute efficiency numbers thoughout his career, and seems primed to finally receive significant playing time this season. If you haven’t seen his feet-on-the-ground dunk against Denver, check it out immediately.

The Pick: Clippers (PK)

3. Indiana Pacers at Milwaukee Bucks (-3.5)

8:30 pm

The Pacers blew out the Memphis Grizzlies on opening night, essentially picking up where they left off last season. Indiana came out and shocked the league by making the postseason a year ago, and the Pacers only got better this offseason—bringing in sixth man Tyreke Evans and solid reserves Doug McDermott and Kyle O’Quinn. This team deserves a ton of respect and could easily finish in the Eastern Conference’s top four. The Bucks, however, looked ridiculous offensively in their season-opening win over the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday. Mike Budenholzer’s offense seems to have opened things up for this Milwaukee team, which is a welcome sight after watching the Bucks stall under the leadership of both Jason Kidd and Joe Prunty. Giannis Antetokounmpo had all of the room in the world to operate, which is just a part of the reason he put up 25 points, 18 rebounds and eight assists in 35 minutes of action. Milwaukee’s shooters simply stayed out of his way, and Antetokounmpo was able to put his head down and attack the rim. And when the Hornets collapsed, the Greek Freak was finding his teammates for open shots. Indiana definitely represents more of a challenge defensively, but the Bucks are going to show up in a big way in their home opener.

The Pick: Bucks -3.5

What to Read Next