When ESPN put the Los Angeles Lakers at Milwaukee Bucks game on Wednesday's schedule, it probably figured it would be a matchup between two of the NBA's best teams.
It's still a compelling game, but because both teams are still trying to find their way.
The Lakers are 8-7 and still better than the defending champion Bucks, who are 6-8. The Bucks are still an 8.5-point favorite at BetMGM.
The easy excuse for both teams is injury. LeBron James has played in just six games. He could return this week, but the Lakers also will want to make sure the 36-year-old is fully recovered from an abdominal injury. The Bucks have had Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday on the court together for just parts of two games. First Holiday got hurt on opening night, then Middleton missed multiple weeks due to COVID-19. Middleton could return on Wednesday night. Milwaukee has also been without starting center Brook Lopez, who has missed all but one game this season due to a back injury.
That also doesn't explain everything that has gone wrong. The Lakers have had a difficult time figuring out how all their new players fit, most notably Russell Westbrook. This season has been a lot of close wins against teams they should outclass and some ugly losses like Monday's 121-103 blowout against the Bulls.
The Bucks haven't been good on offense or defense. Their lack of size could be a problem, especially if Lopez isn't 100 percent all season. Giannis Antetokounmpo has been as good as usual, but Milwaukee is getting everyone's best shot this season and Antetokounmpo hasn't been able to carry the Bucks night after night.
Maybe by playoff time the Lakers and Bucks will both be healthy, all the Lakers' pieces will fit, the Bucks will look like they have on the defensive end the past few seasons and it could be an NBA Finals matchup. But Wednesday's game is just a matchup between two preseason favorites off to really disappointing starts.
Here's our first look at the sports betting slate on Wednesday:
Are there any other marquee NBA matchups?
Did you know the Washington Wizards have the best record in the Eastern Conference at 10-3? They've been a nice surprise this season, though they're 2.5-point underdogs to a fun, young Charlotte Hornets team on Wednesday. Truth be told, that might be a better game than Lakers-Bucks at this point in the season.
The Dallas Mavericks-Phoenix Suns game would have been a lot better if Luka Doncic were playing. He's out with a sprained ankle. The Suns are surging, having won nine in a row. They're 7.5-point favorites and probably the right side with Doncic out.
What about college basketball?
Michigan State vs. Butler is probably the best game on Wednesday night. Michigan State is 2-1, having lost on opening night to Kansas, and a healthier Butler team than last season is 3-0. Michigan State is a 2.5-point favorite, but don't be so fast to fade the Bulldogs.
The other interesting Big Ten-Big East matchup is St. John's at Indiana. Both teams have stars (Julian Champagnie and Posh Alexander for St. John's; Trayce Jackson-Davis for Indiana), and either team could be in the tournament if it finds a supporting cast. Indiana is a 6.5-point favorite.
There are a couple of games if you need some football action. Central Michigan is a 1.5-point favorite at Ball State and Northern Illinois is a 1.5-point favorite at Buffalo. Can't go wrong with some MACtion.
What's the best bet?
The Lakers aren't a good team right now but neither are the Bucks, and 8.5 points is a lot to lay with them against anyone. Maybe they'll be energized if Khris Middleton is back, but he could also be rusty in his first game since Oct. 30. Grabbing the Lakers and the points seems wise.