80 down, two to go.
The Toronto Raptors play their final home game of the 2013-14 NBA Regular Season tonight as they host the 15 and 65 Milwaukee Bucks.
Toronto is coming off a rather uneven win yesterday afternoon over the Detroit Pistons, while the Bucks...well, they're just going through the motions at this point. The Bucks have lost eight of their last 10 games and I'm guessing if you could get an honest answer from the coaching staff and players, they'd all say that they're just anxious for this train-wreck of a campaign to end. Milwaukee has had some rough seasons in the past but failing to win 20 games would mark a franchise-low, and oh...the team is apparently for sale as well.
So yeah, I'm thinking Bucks fans would just as soon forget this season entirely.
For the Raptors, a win tonight would represent pretty much the exact opposite story for the franchise. The club has tied their franchise record for wins with 47 thanks to yesterday's victory over Detroit, so tonight could be an all-time best. The team is headed to the playoffs and if things stay status quo, they would also be the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
Very different narratives indeed.
That being said, Toronto didn't exactly crush Milwaukee when these clubs recently played so I'm not expecting this to be over by the end of the first quarter.
Here are our three keys to a Toronto win:
1) Defense. No big surprise here. The Raps D of late has ranged from passable to dreadful and yesterday versus the Pistons was a bit of the same. Granted, some of the defensive issues were created by the Pistons' mammoth offensive rebounding advantage, but there were still plenty of breakdowns, especially in the third quarter when Detroit dropped 37 points on the Dinos.
Since Toronto's big win over the Memphis Grizzlies nearly a month ago, the Raptors have given up nearly 103 points per game, a mark that would land them around 22nd in the league for that mark if it was extended over the entire season. There have been a number of factors contributing to this but the key takeaway as always is that a much better effort in this regard is needed, especially as the playoffs draw close. Otherwise Toronto is going to have to keep relying on...
2) Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Let's be honest. Without these two, maybe without even one of the two, yesterday's game would have ended in a disappointing loss. So for tonight's match, I'm hoping we see a few other players step up as well. Jonas Valanciunas has been solid of late, but Terrence Ross has been shooting under 40 per cent from the field over his last five games, and Amir Johnson still doesn't quite look like his usual spry self. He also picked up five fouls in only 16 minutes of action yesterday.
The Bucks are so depleted that coach Larry Drew had the following to say regarding his club's recent loss to the Wizards:
"I was looking down at the end of the bench and I just didn't know, I didn't know who I had, who I didn't have, to be perfectly honest." "Man, I'm down to the bare minimum right now."
So this should be a perfect time for Toronto's peripheral guys to get in some good run before the playoffs begin.
3) Pace. Milwaukee and Toronto have played at nearly an identical pace this season, averaging about 94 possessions per game. However the Raptors at times get caught up in a rag-tag style of play that favours their opponents, something that was apparent yesterday, and versus the Knicks last Friday night.
Tonight I'm hoping not only to see the Dinos lock in on D, but also dictate the tone and pace of the game, something I haven't seen enough of even in Toronto's recent wins. As noted, the Bucks may simply be going through the motions this evening so if the Raps can implement their style of play early and dictate pace, the Bucks may fold with relative ease.