I hope everyone -- including the Raptors -- enjoyed their Christmas break. Personally, Christmas is three things for me: I miss my daily routine, I google what is open in the city, and then I settle in and watch 12+ hours of basketball.
The Raptors close out their December schedule with three games against Eastern Conference opponents that could determine a few things in the standings when we look back at the results in April. Here are three things to look for with regards to tonight's matchup against the Bucks:
1. The Return of Valanciunas (?)
Valanciunas practiced yesterday and while we'll get more information later today, he could be cleared for Saturday. Otherwise, he seems on track to make his debut on Monday. If and when he does return, it'll be worth keeping an eye on how Dwane Casey handles Valanciunas' minutes, assuming he is in shape and ready to handle a full workload right away. Bismack Biyombo has been impressive filling in and has provided exactly what the Raptors expected in terms of defensive and rebounding, probably at a most consistent level than anyone expected. That's not to say Valanciunas and his offensive prowess hasn't been missed, but it's still worth keeping an eye on how the fourth quarter minutes are handled, especially since it doesn't make sense for Biyombo and Valanciunas to be on the floor at the same time.
2. Handling Khris Middleton
Khris Middleton signed a five-year, $70 million contract with the Bucks this offseason. Milwaukee made a long-term commitment to a player that many casual observers might not have heard of, but Middleton has been playing well as of late, including a 26 point performance against the Suns last week, in which he shot 10-for-17 from the field and added seven assists and two steals. In December, Middleton has averaged 16.2 points, 4.1 assists and 3.8 rebounds. He won't be the focal point of the Bucks offense, but one path to victory would be to prevent Middleton from becoming the story of tonight's game.
3. DeMar DeRozan's Progress
A season long storyline, DeMar DeRozan strong play in December has caught many people's attention. He's scored 28 or more points in each of his last four games, and shot over 50 percent in two of them. The knock on DeRozan has been his lack of range (from three) and efficiency from the field. His playmaking his improved this season, he's shooting the ball much better, but with a max-level contract looming this summer, the question becomes, is this sustainable and if so, is he worth it?
Where to watch: 5 pm est, TSN.