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NBA on ESPN Wednesday Preview: Bulls/Bucks and Lakers/Clippers

A pair of teams essentially locked into their seeds square off in the East before LeBron James battles Kawhi Leonard in arguably the highest stakes Battle of L.A. yet.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

The NBA on ESPN is back tonight at 6:30pm CT, as DeMar DeRozan and the Chicago Bulls visit Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks to renew a 2022 playoff matchup, before LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers return to the West Coast to play Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook and the Los Angeles Clippers in the most consequential Battle for L.A. yet.

DraftKings Odds

You can bet your favorite spread, moneyline, total or game prop over with our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook.

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Bulls (+6.5, +215 ML) at Bucks (-6.5, -255 ML) | Total: 230

As of writing, 69% of bets are on the Bucks to cover, while a similar 77% of the handle (money) is coming in on the same side, according to VSiN. In short, public and sharp (professional) bettors are generally in agreement on this one. As for the total, the public favors the over, as 61% of bets are on over 236 points. Sharps share the same enthusiasm about the over, and are also backing it, as 68% of the handle is on the over.

The Picks: Bulls +6.5 | Under 230

This one is pretty simple. The Bucks played last night in Washington D.C. and have essentially already clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Bulls are still fighting for Play-In Tournament seeding, so they need this one badly, and it would make little-to-no sense for Milwaukee to play Giannis or Jrue Holiday on the second leg of a back-to-back; to prepare for this, the still-recovering Khris Middleton did not play last night, as he has not played both legs of a back-to-back since his return from injury.

Expect Giannis and Holiday to both sit this one out, so take the Bulls and the under on a night where the Bucks’ offense will rely heavily upon the likes of Brook Lopez, Jae Crowder and MarJon Beauchamp.

Los Angeles Clippers v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Lakers (+4.5, +160 ML) at Clippers (-4.5, -110 ML) | Total: 229.5

As of writing, 66% of bets have been wagered on the Lakers, while 65% of the money is with the Clippers. The public and the sharps are in pretty stark disagreement here, with professional bettors taking the team that didn’t play an overtime game at altitude last night.

As for the total, 71% of the bets are on the over, while a more split 51% of the handle is coming in on the over.

It’s a must-win for both the Clippers and Lakers, who are the No. 6 and No. 7 seeds, respectively, with an identical record of 41-38. The winner of this game has the inside track to avoid the Play-In Tournament, while the loser will have to fight just to host the 7/8 Play-In game next week.

The Picks: Lakers +4.5 | Over 229.5

As of 10:30 AM CT, the Lakers have not released a status report (and won’t until 3 PM CT) so I am operating under the assumption that LeBron James (foot), Anthony Davis (foot) and D’Angelo Russell (foot) all give it a go.

Even though the Lakers played at altitude deep into the night in an overtime thriller over the Utah Jazz, you have to like their chances. They have the two best players in the game in James and Davis, have won seven of their last eight, and face a Clippers team that is going to heavily rely upon Russell Westbrook with their season on the line.

The Lakers have a top-10 offense (119.0, 10th) and a top-10 defense (113.4, eighth) over the last 10 games, while the Clippers are 17th and 13th, respectively, and are struggling to find consistent sources of offense beyond Leonard and Westbrook. While Nicolas Batum, Robert Covington, Norman Powell and Bones Hyland have all chipped in 20-plus-point outings in the last couple weeks, they’ve also chipped in multiple single-digit points outings, too, and have waxed and waned in terms of their total shot output. Compare that to a Lakers team finding a clear secondary offense hierarchy of Russell and Austin Reaves beyond James and Davis and, as a result, its groove in the half-court.

Even when the Lakers aren’t shooting it well, Davis and Jarred Vanderbilt have been active on the offensive glass, leading the Lakers to a top-six offensive rebound rate (30.5%) over the last 10. Tonight, they face a Clippers defense that ranks 23rd in defensive rebound rate (69.6%) in that same span, so it’s a good matchup for them to create and convert second chances.

Give me the Lakers and the over, in what should be an up-and-down game between two of the best teams in the league at running after stops and scoring on the break.

Los Angeles Clippers v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

Prop Report

While not the most popular angle for basketball bettors to take, I find it much easier to find an advantage against sportsbooks when researching player props. With that in mind, let’s take a look at one pick for each game that stands out. You can view DraftKings Sportsbook’s player props for each game here.

Bulls at Bucks

The Pick: DeMar DeRozan over 29.5 points (+275)

DeRozan scored 42 and 36 points, respectively, in his first two outings against the Bucks, and this time around he’ll likely do it without the Bucks’ two best perimeter defenders in Giannis and Holiday. Even if one or both does play, it’s an opponent that one of the league’s top scorers has proven he can get it done against, both at home and on the road.

Lakers at Clippers

The Pick: Russell Westbrook over 16.5 points (-125)

Westbrook is averaging 21.3 points per game over his last three outings, 18.0 over his last five, and 16.7 over his last 10 as an L.A. Clipper. Tonight, he’ll face his former team, one that is awful in defending against scoring point guards. The Lakers allow the sixth-most points per game to opposing point guards, and has allowed at least 17 points to an opposing lead ball-handler in three straight games. Add in the motivation factor going against his former team in a big spot, and I’ll ride with Russ to take enough shots to get it done.

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