It’s a well-known fact that Giannis Antetokounmpo does a little bit of everything for the Bucks. He’s had to for a couple of reasons — first the absence of Khris Middleton (who is playing again), and then because of the injury to Jabari Parker (injured again). As such, Giannis has been a model of consistency, filling the stat sheet on a night to night basis to get wins.
Kyle Lowry for the Raptors is sort of like that. I mean, he’s not superhuman like Giannis, but he means a lot to Toronto. In his stead, the Raptors have had to find consistency elsewhere. In the five games Lowry’s missed, they’ve gotten it from DeMar DeRozan and newcomer Serge Ibaka. The rest of the team has been up and down. Case in point: Norman Powell’s dynamite game last night in Washington vs. his awful game on Wednesday at home against Washington. The Raptors have the tools and depth to win games without Lowry, but they need all the moving parts to be working in tandem. It’s tougher than it sounds.
Tonight the Bucks will try to leverage Giannis’ singular brilliance to end Toronto’s seven game win streak against them. The Raptors, of course, will try to continue to win without Lowry and prove themselves to be the better team.
Here are three things to keep an eye on in tonight’s contest:
DeMar DeRozan, Human Fireball
Here are DeRozan’s scoring numbers since Lowry went down: 43, 33, 37, 24, 32. For all the struggles the Raptors have scoring when Kyle’s out of the lineup, having DeRozan around to take it as a personal affront is good. His low game came in that disaster on Wednesday night and it tells you what kind of situation Toronto is in. Of even more interesting note: in the four wins, DeRozan shot better than 50 percent from the field — in the loss: 35 percent.
The cries of “is this sustainable?” and “the Raptors will burn DeRozan out!” are already being heard though. I suppose this is a fair concern, even if, freak injuries aside, DeRozan has been a model toughness throughout his career, and his consistency this season has been beyond reproach. He throws up the occasional clunker (the game against Charlotte before the All-Star break was bad), but for the most part, he is the transcendent scorer — and worker — the Raptors need. The Bucks will try to contain him and I suspect they will fail.
Sure, Let’s Talk About Jonas Again
As the Serge sample size (SSS) gets bigger, the Jonas Valanciunas-less Raptors are becoming more and more of a thing. The big Lithuanian’s minutes are down, and his play has grown more and more uninspired. The Raptors are dying for offense and when they’ve looked to Jonas in the post, he just has not done enough to justify his presence on the court. Could this change against Milwaukee, a team currently starting rookie Thon Maker, and playing one other traditional big man in Greg Monroe? I mean, if not now, when?
Look, the Raptors have been a force when they’ve gone small. With Ibaka at centre and some combination of Patrick Patterson, DeMarre Carroll, P.J. Tucker and Powell, the team has had terrific moments. (Shouts to Delon Wright for his contributions too — four blocks!) Last night in the second quarter, it was a small lineup that blew the game open (for a time). And in the fourth, even with the Wizards’ Marcin Gortat patrolling the paint, the Raps went to Serge at centre again... and won.
It’s not hard to see a future in which Jonas never plays another fourth quarter again. And — let me whisper this — perhaps Valanciunas will find his way out of Toronto owing to the team’s salary crunch next year. We shall see.
Norm Watch 2017
Powell gets his own section here for two reasons. First, the fun: the Bucks traded him for Greivis Vasquez! Let’s pause a moment to laugh uproariously. What a steal! Second, the potential: if the Raptors can get something like last night’s version of Norm more often, holy shit.
On Wednesday night, Powell was pressing. He shot two airball 3s, and his drives were more careening and out of control than usual. The Raptors’ three-point shooting — in the absence of Lowry and the departed Terrence Ross — was nowhere to be found. Norm’s anger turned inward rather than outward. Last night, however, we caught yet another glimpse of what Powell is as a player. When Norm is attacking the rim off of closeouts, when he’s hitting the corner three, when he’s playing with controlled fury, he’s as valuable to the Raptors as anyone.
While I’m sure the Bucks — sitting with Giannis, Middleton, the sadly injured Jabari Parker, the intriguing Maker, and the surprising Malcolm Brogdon — are not exactly sweating the trade of Powell, it has to sting a bit. Especially if Norm goes off in their building. Hoo boy, let’s watch.
Where to Watch: Sportsnet One, 8pm EST