The Bucks kick off their 2019 season with a clash against the new-look Houston Rockets on Thursday night, in what should be a thrilling game. Milwaukee, coming off a 60-win season and conference finals appearance, appears poised to return to the ECF while Houston is right in the mix in the loaded Western Conference. The Rockets made a huge move in the offseason, swapping Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook with Oklahoma City. Westbrook and James Harden are reunited as teammates, though questions linger about their offensive chemistry.

Both are ball-dominant guards that take a lot of shots, but if Houston is smart they’ll let Harden command the offense. Surrounding Harden and Westbrook are solid shooters in Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker and a dominant rebounder in Clint Capela. Expect a heavy dose of pick-and-roll from Capela and the guards, which the Bucks have struggled with in the past. We may see a lot of Giannis at center to counter this. Eric Bledsoe will be tasked with defending James Harden after holding him to 9/26 shooting the last time these two teams met.

The Bucks added some bench depth in the offseason, picking up Wesley Matthews, Kyle Korver, and Robin Lopez on cheap 1-year deals. They’ll be asked to pick up some of the slack that left with Malcolm Brogdon, who was sent to Indiana in a sign-and-trade over the summer. At the very least, Matthews and Korver provide the Bucks with improved spacing and effective three-point shooting while Robin Lopez can eat some minutes at center.

Expected starters:

MIL: Bledsoe, Matthews, Middleton, Antetokounmpo, Lopez

HOU: Westbrook, Harden, House, Tucker, Capela

Injuries: Eric Bledsoe, who has been nursing a rib injury, will start for the Bucks. Gerald Green is expected to be out for the season for the Rockets with a broken foot and Nene will not be available for Houston Thursday night.

The spread: HOU -2.5

Time and TV: 7:00 PM CT on TNT

Prediction: This is a pretty tough matchup for the Bucks in their very first game, especially considering it is on the road in a hostile environment. I expect this one to be close through 3 quarters, with the Bucks eventually pulling away thanks to a stretch of Giannis dominance. Bucks 112, Rockets 103

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