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Giannis-Zion rivalry set to get started

By Jeff Fogle  ( 

Savvy scheduling by the NBA put Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. Zion Williamson in a national TV spot the Tuesday after the Super Bowl (7:30 p.m., TNT). It’s a great way to showcase the future of pro basketball for sports fans and bettors transitioning from football.

Milwaukee at New Orleans is definitely must-see basketball. Is it must-bet basketball? 

As always, that depends on line value. The public bets teams. Sharps study the teams, then bet prices. Let’s see how both teams have been performing recently vs. market expectations: 

— Milwaukee (6-8 ATS in its last 14 games)

The Bucks covered 60% of their games through the end of 2019, going 21-14. But hurdles have since risen higher for the prohibitive Eastern Conference favorites. Markets are pricing them like a juggernaut every night. It’s not possible or even reasonable to play to that level. At 42-7 straight up, Milwaukee can coast to a No. 1 seed. 

Worth noting for bettors is that the Bucks are 11-15 ATS as double-digit favorites after Sunday’s cover vs. Phoenix. They’re 16-7 ATS (70%) in all other games. Milwaukee is still playing with a chip on its shoulder in litmus tests. 

— New Orleans (15-4-1 ATS in its last 20 games, 3-3 ATS with Williamson)

The Pelicans were looking at 67% with Williamson until their fourth-quarter collapse Sunday in Houston. They had been on fire before his return, 12-1-1 ATS the previous 14 games. 

It’s a quirk of the marketplace. In the days leading to Williamson’s return, New Orleans had been extremely underrated by a market more focused on pro football, college bowls and college basketball. But oddsmakers properly lifted the Pelicans to playoff-caliber with Williamson. They’ve been 50/50 since vs. the line. 

New Orleans didn’t get worse with Williamson. It might have become a worse bet because expectations rose so quickly. The Pelicans have been priced as about a No. 5 or No. 6 seed with Williamson in the lineup despite a full-season straight-up record of 20-30. 

The opening line for Bucks-Pelicans will tell you how oddsmakers see the teams. Remember to adjust three points for home-court advantage. First market moves will tell you what sharps are thinking. It’s possible that public action could nudge the number in the hours before tip-off. But it’s still a bit early for recreational bettors to have that kind of impact. 

Pace factor suggests Tuesday’s tilt will be a track meet. Milwaukee plays at the fastest pace in the NBA, according to, with 105.23 possessions per 48 minutes. New Orleans is fifth at 103.38. Don’t handicap NBA totals without pondering pace.

Milwaukee-New Orleans should feel like a playoff game, or maybe more like a rock concert if both young superstars play to their norms in their first regular-season meeting. Health permitting, we’ll be watching the two most dominant NBA forces of the next decade. You’d better get used to handicapping their games.

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