The Toronto Raptors look to put last night's gut-wrenching 109-107 loss to the Chicago Bulls behind them right away tonight as they head out on the road to take on the Milwaukee Bucks. This second game of a back-to-back set will also mark the second game in a string of four games in five nights for the Raptors.
It's the team's first road game since February 28th, when a Kyle Lowry-less Raptors team fell 114-101 to the Pistons in Detroit. The Raps finished their seven game homestand 5-2 and now sit at 44-21 on the year.
Some Raptors fans might be pessimistic after the Bulls completed a 4-0 sweep of the season series between the two squads on Monday, but today is a new day. Toronto is only six wins away from its first ever 50-win season and a Cleveland Cavaliers' loss to the Utah Jazz last night means the Raptors didn't lose any ground in the standings, and still sit only 2.5 games back of the Cavs for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
A win against the 29-38 Milwaukee Bucks would give the Raptors a 4-0 season sweep of their own, which would be a good way to right the ship and get back on track.
Things to Watch For:
1. The injury/rest report
Jonas Valanciunas left last night's game with a hand injury, but luckily his X-rays were negative and he seems to have avoided the threat of an extended absence:
Results of further examinations indicate Jonas Valanciunas has a left hand contusion. He will be treated symptomatically. #rtz— RaptorsMR (@RaptorsMR) March 15, 2016
UPDATE: Dwane Casey says Jonas Valanciunas' hand contusion is not serious; he is expected to travel with team tonight to Milwaukee.— SportsCentre (@SportsCentre) March 15, 2016
He should be considered questionable for tonight by default, but it looks like there's a decent enough chance that he plays.
In the meantime, this looks like the ideal rest game for at least one of the team's overworked All-Star duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
As previously mentioned, this game lands in the middle of a string of four games in five nights, and it just so happens that it's the only one that isn't against an Eastern Conference playoff hopeful (after a game against the Chicago Bulls on Monday and as they get set to face the Indiana Pacers on Thursday and the Boston Celtics on Friday).
Even if it's not Lowry or DeRozan, this would be a wise spot for coach Dwane Casey to at least rest someone, especially if Valanciunas plays and the team's frontcourt remains intact.
2. Point forward, Giannis Antetokounmpo
With Michael Carter-Williams, Greivis Vasquez, and O.J. Mayo all done for the year in Milwaukee, Giannis "The Greek Freak" Antetokounmpo has taken over a large portion of the ballhandling duties for the Bucks from the small forward position.
At 6'11" and with a wingspan that stretches halfway across his hometown of Athens, "Point Giannis" is a true sight to behold, especially running the break for the Bucks:
Averaging 20.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, 8.6 assists, 2.2 steals, and 1.9 blocks and shooting 50.9% from the field over his last 11 games, the 21-year-old Antetokounmpo is having a huge mid-season breakout, so enjoy the front-row seat.
3. A chance to re-establish the defense
The Raptors have had a Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 109.5 over their last eight games, ranking them 24th in the NBA over that span. The team could use a strong defensive showing as a step back towards establishing a respectable defense before the postseason rolls around and this game could be a great opportunity for that.
The Raptors have held the Bucks to 90 points or less in all three meetings this season and have won those three games by an average of 15.7 points. Toronto's 94.4 Defensive Rating against Milwaukee this season is downright Spurs-esque.
Chicago may have had Toronto's number this season, but Toronto has had Milwaukee's.
Where to Watch: TSN1, 8:00 PM EST