Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
The HQ's Brandon Graham previews this afternoon's key match-up versus Milwaukee.
After trouncing the Charlotte Bobcats 99-78 on Friday night, the Toronto Raptors (14-22) look for their 11th victory in 14 games as the eighth-seeded Milwaukee Bucks (18-17) step into the Air Canada Centre this afternoon.
The Raptors have enjoyed the feeling of not trailing in their last two games, as they seek their third, three-game winning streak of the season against the Bucks.
Milwaukee has a seven-game winning streak against Toronto and has rallied to win four in a row at the ACC, which does seem farfetched with the Raps' balance on both ends of the floor as of late at home.
As many recall, with the fall of Andrea Bargnani and the emergence of the Ed Davis and Amir Johnson tandem, the Dinos' haven't looked back. Davis and Johnson have led the surge on the glass together for the improved Raps, averaging 6.3 and 6.1 RPG respectively along with notching 8.5 PPG, which has acted as a major contributor for the noticeable recent success on both ends of the floor.
Without the likes of Bargs on the floor, a unique identity of offensive balance has highlighted Toronto's efficiency, as the club has been moving the ball around finding much better looks.
Led by DeMar DeRozan's 17.8 PPG, four other Toronto players are averaging over 10.3 ppg as seven different players have shared the top scorer role once over the last 13 games. How's that for offensive balance? Alan Anderson, being one of the four, played that role with 16 points off the pine in Friday's victory over the Bobcats.
Another positive emergence that hasn't fully gotten the attention it deserves is the bounce-back play of forward Landry Fields. Playing in seven games since returning from a right elbow injury, Fields has looked more determined and confident compared to his opening days with the club.
Grabbing season-high 11 rebounds in the past two games, head coach Dwane Casey had some positive things to say about Fields' recent play.
"He has grown into that glue guy that we need, a team guy who plays at a high level, does all the right things. He has really, really improved, but the No. 1 thing I have seen improve since he came back from the surgery is his confidence. He is playing with a tremendous amount of confidence and I think that has helped other parts of his game."
This all comes to show that, yes, you can star in cheesy PS Vita commercials and still hold your own on the court. That is all.
Playing their third game in four nights, Larry Sanders and the Bucks have thrived under the radar so far this season. With their new "free-and-loose" sense of play under interim coach Jim Boylan, they'll look to get back on track this afternoon.
Consistency should be the line the Raptors place on themselves for this afternoon's match-up, and with that said, here are the three keys to pulling out a third straight W:
1) Obtain Early Momentum: Throughout the past two wins at home, the Raps' have made it a habit of putting opponents away early. Cruising to consecutive wins at home, without trailing at all to teams that should be put away early have worked in favor of Toronto. Sharing the ball early and often, and capitalizing on the break consistently has also become habitual, as the team has averaged 5.3 more assists in the last 13 games.
2) Contain The Streaky Bucks' Backcourt: Brandon Jennings has been on fire as of late and that has to be credited to his confidence instilled by new interim head coach Jim Boylan. In Boylan's first two wins as interim head coach, Brandon Jennings has shot 53.8 percent from the floor, 58.8 percent from deep and 92.3 percent from the charity stripe. As he's regarded as one of the more reliable scoring point guards in league, it's the full-on responsibility of the Raps' guards to contain the dangerous duo of Jennings and Monta Ellis - who can both get hot in a hurry.
3) Pound the Rock: As cliché as it may sound, pounding the rock and feeding the post has worked wonders for the Raps. High screen-and-roll action from Jose Calderon and Amir Johnson has become the bread and butter on offense, which has opened up opportunities for many players on the court. The Dinos' are averaging 99.0 points over the last 13 games compared to 95.2 in their first 23 contests while only giving up 90.2 ppg during the 10-3 surge.
A prime example of having defense lead to quality offense has been the attitude that the Raps have embodied and it seems to be working quite well. Playing their own brand of basketball and getting everyone into the mix of playing "together basketball" will get Toronto past Milwaukee this afternoon.