NBA: Boston at Milwaukee (8:00 PM ET, FSN)

 

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2010-03-09

After spending a month taking advantage of a schedule that included some of the league’s worst teams, the Milwaukee Bucks are one game into a stretch that sends three of the NBA’s best to the Bradley Center. They already turned back the LeBron-less Cavaliers on Saturday night. Up on Tuesday are the Boston Celtics, and Bucks are a 1-point home favorite according to Sportsbook.com.

A breakout performance from the struggling Brandon Jennings helped the Bucks top the team with the league’s best record, and they’ll look for a 10th win in 11 games Tuesday night as they try to snap the Boston Celtics’ four-game winning streak.

Milwaukee (33-29, 40-21-1 ATS) was three games out of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot as of Jan. 26, but it has gone 15-4 and even more amazing 15-3-1 ATS since then to jump into fifth place. Of the Bucks’ first 14 victories in that stretch, 13 came against the bottom nine teams in the East. Only Miami, which Milwaukee beat three times, currently owns a winning record.

Visits from Cleveland, Boston (40-21, 26-34-1 ATS) and Utah in a seven-day stretch should give the Bucks a bigger challenge, but questions remained even after their first test. Jennings scored 25 points in a 92-85 victory Saturday over the league-best Cavaliers, who gave LeBron James a night off to rest his sore ankle.

“There’ll be people saying it was a great game and there’ll be other people saying well, LeBron didn’t play, if he would have played, they would have won,” said Andrew Bogut, who had 15 points and nine rebounds. “It’s a lose-lose situation for us.” The Bucks are 18-4 ATS after playing a game as a home favorite this season.

Milwaukee can hope Jennings’ effort is the precursor of a personal turnaround. The rookie point guard had averaged 9.9 points and shot 29.7 percent since Feb. 1 before sparking the victory over Cleveland. Just three days earlier, after shooting 2 for 12 in a win over Washington, Jennings said he wasn’t even sure if wanted to continue taking shots.

That public display of frustration didn’t please coach Scott Skiles. “Right now, I’m playing for something bigger,” Jennings said after hitting five 3-pointers against the Cavaliers. “Main thing is get to playoffs, having the city start believing in us and keep going on from there.” Milwaukee hasn’t lost a game against the spread since Feb. 17 to Houston, accumulating 9-0-1 ATS mark.

If Milwaukee ends up in the postseason for the first time since 2006, it might find itself facing the Atlantic Division-leading Celtics in the first round. Boston is 4-0 (3-1 ATS) in March after going 9-11 from Jan. 14-Feb. 27, but much like during the Bucks’ winning stretch, the competition has hardly been fierce.

The Celtics’ streak has been built against the teams currently occupying then 9th-12th spots in the East, and they had to battle back to beat Washington at home on Sunday night. Boston trailed 79-66 with 6:11 remaining before responding with a 20-4 closing run to secure an 86-83 win. Ray Allen had eight of his 25 points in the decisive stretch.

“We’ve lost so many of these where we played poorly and lost,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “It was nice to play poorly and win. I just wish we could have played the first 40 minutes, like we played the last eight.” Boston is 24-12 ATS after a win by six points or less over the last two seasons.

Boston lost its latest visit to Milwaukee last March 15 as Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo combined to shoot 8 of 36. That was the Celtics’ only loss in the series’ last eight games (3-5 ATS). Kevin Garnett - who didn’t make a field goal Sunday for the first time in more than 14 years - had 25 points and nine rebounds in a 98-89 win at TD Garden on Dec. 8. Bogut had 25 points and 14 rebounds in the loss while committing a season-high seven turnovers. That was one of only three Milwaukee losses in 17 games in which Bogut has scored 20 points or more.

Sportsbook.com has the Bucks as a one-point home favorite with total of 188 and they are 11-3 ATS after successfully covering the spread in four or more consecutive games. Normally, Milwaukee and the word defense are not used in the same sentence, except for negative connotation. However, the Bucks are 10-2 UNDER when the total is between 180 and 189.5 points, winning by seven points per game this season. Boston definitely prefers to play at their own pace, with pale 2-12 ATS record versus teams averaging 83 or more shots a game since the beginning of the season and are 25-12 UNDER in road encounters when playing against a club with a winning record.

This Eastern Conference matchup is available in both local TV markets at 8:00 Eastern and Milwaukee is 14-5 ATS when the line is +3 to -3 this campaign.

StatFox Power Line – Milwaukee by 7