The Brooklyn Nets host the Milwaukee Bucks at 7:30 p.m. tonight in what is clearly the top matchup on the NBA’s all-day Martin Luther King Jr. Day slate.
With the sportsbooks setting an over/under at 237.5 points and the Bucks coming in as a moderately surprising 2-point favorite (we’ll tackle the “surprising” factor a bit later), this game between the two Eastern Conference giants sets up as a true marquee matchup.
And that’s even without word on the status of Kyrie Irving, who is questionable as of this writing. He hasn’t been on the court since Jan. 5 due to both personal reasons and COVID-19 protocols.
Of course, if Irving does suit up tonight, it will mark the first time he’ll join Kevin Durant and the newly acquired James Harden on the floor together.
And if that happens, this game goes from “great matchup” to a potential “Do you remember where you were when the greatest trio of NBA talent first played together?” kind of thing.
Matchup favors the Bucks — for now
But first, the game.
The Nets, despite the star power, have certainly underachieved in this young season with an 8-6 record. To be fair, they’ve been without Irving for the last few weeks and Durant missed time under the league’s health and safety protocols early in the season. They are, however, riding a three-game winning streak.
The Bucks started slow as well, but they’re back on top of the conference standings and are coming into the game on a four-game winning streak.
Led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, the explosive Bucks are second in the NBA in offensive efficiency and come in at number seven in defensive efficiency. They’re about as well-balanced a team as can be.
The Nets, on the other hand? They’re fourth in offensive efficiency, but 14th on the defensive side. Of course, the Nets’ numbers are going to look wildly different with Harden, Irving, and Durant on the floor together. This team, in short, is going to score. A lot. As for defense … well, who knows.
Best offensive trio ever?
The NBA has a rich history in the modern era of famous trios, with the Michael-Scottie-Rodman Bulls teams leading the pack. Then there’s Steph-Klay-Durant. Kareem-Magic-Worthy. (You’ll quickly note the best trios don’t need the players’ full names.)
And with that in mind, the Kyrie-Harden-Durant trio may be the best yet, especially if all you’re looking at is offensive output.
This is the most prolific scoring trio the @nba has EVER seen. If this trade doesn’t get Kyrie Irving’s attention to win it all… I don’t know what will.
— Jay Williams (@RealJayWilliams) January 13, 2021
Jay Williams notwithstanding, there has been plenty of hand-wringing among NBA purists about just how three scorers like this are going to co-exist on the court.
Nets fans got a glimpse of it the other night when Harden made his first appearance as a Net and promptly set a franchise record for most assists in a debut with 14.
While Irving’s appearance tonight might tip the odds in the Nets favor, it is notable they’re home underdogs without him. As referenced earlier, this is a bit of a surprise, as the Nets are favored long-term over the Bucks in the conference. On DraftKings, the Nets are +140 to win the conference, the Bucks +320. The spread is tighter on FanDuel — the Nets are +145, the Bucks +280 — but the upshot is the same: The sportsbooks expect the Nets to eventually overtake the Bucks.
But tonight? Not so much.
The game tips off at 7:30 p.m. and will be nationally broadcast on TNT.