Tuesday Teaser

April 9, 2024

NBA: Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks

© Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

What in the world is going on in Milwaukee? The change to Doc Rivers at head coach after the midseason firing of Adrian Griffin was met with confusion around the league, and it looks like the skeptics were right.

Griffin departed with a 30-13 record and now the Bucks are just 47-31. They’ve gone under .500 at 17-18 under Rivers and are in the middle of a horrid 1-6 stretch, which includes losing four games in a row.

Milwaukee has slipped all the way to just a game up on the Magic and Knicks for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. If they stumble even more in their final four games of the regular season, they could fall all the way to the No. 5 seed in a tight race that sees Cleveland just 1.5 games back. It’d be a fitting end to the failed Rivers experiment thus far, not even having homecourt advantage in round one.

Meanwhile, the Celtics are in a favorable but tricky position. Their 62-16 record is by far the best mark in the NBA, and any Game 7 they’re involved in all the way through the Finals will be at TD Garden. Not only do they have the best mark in the East by a stunning 15 games, they’re also eight games clear of the Timberwolves and Nuggets in the West.

It’s abundantly clear Boston is the best team in the league; they’ve just got to get over their recent playoff failures and bring the Larry O’Brien back to a city that has hoisted that trophy 17 times. Still, it’s hard not to be on cruise control at this point in the season, considering these games don’t mean anything at all.

Superstar Jayson Tatum sat out against Portland on Sunday, and they still won by 17. The Celtics have won five games in a row, and four of those victories came by at least 12 points. They’re a machine. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo is having another huge season for the Bucks, averaging 30.7 points, 11.6 rebounds and 6.5 assists, but has slipped out of the MVP conversation due to the team’s recent struggles. That award will almost certainly go to Nikola Jokic, with Luka Doncic and Shan Gilgeous-Alexander barely hanging around.

Milwaukee clearly misses Jrue Holiday, who’s ironically now on the Celtics. It’s not that Damian Lillard hasn’t been good with the Bucks (24.5 points and 7.0 assists per game), but they miss Holiday’s toughness and leadership.

During this losing streak, Milwaukee has lost to the likes of Washington, Memphis and Toronto. Those are unacceptable defeats at this stage in the season, especially if they end up affecting their playoff seeding. Given that recent run of futility, it’s hard to pick the Bucks to beat the Celtics. Beware of the hook, but go with Boston.

Jason Schlefsky’s Pick: Boston -2.5 (-110) 

Yes, one team has nothing to play for and the other a lot on the line, but you can’t ignore what’s happening in Milwaukee right now. They look like one of the worst teams in the NBA, not primed to make anything close to a championship run. Unless the Celtics decide to rest all of their top guys, Boston is simply way more talented at the moment and can roll the basketballs out there and still win this game. They also may have a little extra motivation to continue to see the Bucks spiral, while adding on to an impressive regular season record. The struggle continues in Milwaukee, as Boston leaves with a 118-111 victory.


NHL: Minnesota Wild at Colorado Avalanche

© Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

The Avalanche are coming off two games they’d like to forget, contests in which they gave up six goals to Edmonton and seven goals to Dallas. The losses essentially ended their hopes of winning the Central Division yet again, as a 7-4 setback to the Stars put them up five points in the standings with just four regular season games to go for each team.

Colorado has 102 points while Dallas has 107, almost surely too big of a mountain to climb. But the Avs now must look behind them, as well, as Winnipeg lurks with 100 points, and whoever finishes the year with more will get home-ice advantage in round one.

The Jets also have a game in hand, so Colorado desperately needs a win against the Wild to get back on track. The Jets and Avs will also meet on Saturday, a showdown that could go a long way toward deciding where Game 1 of their series is played. 

The Wild have had a frustrating year that will see them come up short of the postseason, as they couldn’t get enough momentum going down the stretch to realistically challenge Vegas and Los Angeles for one of the final wild card spots. Minnesota has skated off losers in six of their last 10 games, including an overtime loss to the Golden Knights that saw them not earn a point because they pulled their goal in the extra session.

It was a bold strategy that was largely applauded, considering they desperately needed the two points. But the NHL punishes teams who do it, not awarding the bonus point if the opposing team scores on an empty net.

In three games with Colorado this year, the Wild are 0-2-1, not getting a victory against their fringe rival. They’ve lost by scores of 3-2, 2-1 (OT) and most recently 5-2 just last week. 

The Avs have superstars as Nathan MacKinnon is the favorite to win his first Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP and Cale Makar could steal the Norris Trophy, but goaltending has become a major concern entering the postseason. Presumed starter Alexandar Georgiev has given up six goals in each of his last two starts, and there’s real conversation in Denver if Justus Annunen should be the netminder in the playoffs.

Annunen, who started the season in the minors as the team’s fourth-string goalie, is 7-4-1 and giving up just 2.24 goals per game with a .931 save percentage. Georgiev has a save percentage of just .899 and is giving up 2.97 goals per game. Head coach Jared Bednar has some tough decisions to make not only in the final four regular season games, but in the playoffs as well. 

Norm LaChatlier’s Pick: Colorado -1.5 (+120)

One team will be desperate to get a victory, while the other is thinking about their tee times in 10 days and / or a nice vacation. These are some of the most fun hockey games of the year to lay a little action on, because motivation is usually clear for one squad and absent for the other. The Avalanche are a spectacular 29-8-1 at home this season, even with the unfortunate setback to Dallas on Sunday night. They’ll come out flying all over the ice, and even if the goaltending isn’t superb, the Avs will get plenty of tallies. Colorado gets back on track and stays at No. 2 in the Central with a 6-3 win.

And Keep an Eye On…

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Edmonton Oilers (Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET)

© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

This is an interesting matchup between two teams headed to the playoffs. Edmonton is pretty locked in as the No. 2 seed in the Pacific Division, but Vegas is still jockeying for position. The Golden Knights are currently the second wild card team, but at 92 points, they’re only one point behind the Kings for the third spot in that division. First-round matchups are at stake, as both teams try to maneuver for the best possible run through the postseason.


NBA: Sacramento Kings at Oklahoma City Thunder (Tuesday, 8:00 p.m. ET)

There are major playoff implications in this one, something few thought would be the case in a late-game matchup between the Kings and Thunder. Oklahoma City is vying for the No. 1 seed in the West, as they’re currently one game behind Denver and Minnesota for the top spot. Meanwhile, Sacramento is in the midst of a battle for play-in positioning. Currently, the Kings are the No. 8 seed, but they’re just one game behind New Orleans and a half-game ahead of the Lakers.


NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Denver Nuggets (Wednesday, 10:00 p.m. ET)

While there are other games still to be played, this showdown should determine who gets the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. Currently, the Nuggets and Timberwolves are tied atop the standings, making this late-season matchup crucial in the race. Barring a total collapse by the winner, the loser of this game will be trying to avoid a tumble all the way down to the No. 3 spot in the West. Denver’s chances of defending their championship could come down to how they play in the second night of a back-to-back, as Minnesota rolls into the Mile High City after a Tuesday night gimme against Washington.