With the Raptors heading into a first round series against the Milwaukee Bucks, let’s take a look at how the two teams match up, their strengths and weaknesses, and a telling pattern from the season series.
Hot Versus Cold
The Bucks have not been playing great lately. They've been winning, sure, but the numbers suggest something about the quality of those wins. They are 17-9 since the break, compared to the Raptors' 17-7, both very impressive. But the Bucks have had only a +0.5 net rating (14th) in that time, to TOR's +4.5 (5th). They are playing with the point differential of a .500 team, and finding ways (read: getting lucky) to win more than they lose.
More recently (over the past 5 games), the picture is even more drastic. The Bucks have gone 2-3, and post an abysmal -7 net rating in that time (dragged down by a 96.0 offensive rating). The Raptors have struggled a bit too as they reintroduce Kyle Lowry, but still went 4-1 with a positive point differential.
The Deer Like to Run, and Score Inside
Milwaukee survives on fast break points and scoring inside. They are a top 10 team in fast break points per 100 possessions, 5th in points off turnovers, and they are 1st in the league with 50 points in the paint per 100 possessions.
Bad news for Bucks fans: the Raptors have the 5th lowest turnover rate in the league at 13.1% (the Bucks' typical opponent turns it over 15.2% of the time), and only saw that rise to 13.9% against the Bucks this year. The Raptors are also ranked 6th and 7th in preventing opponent fast break points and points off turnovers.
Toronto has advantages aplenty against the Bucks, but the biggest one may be on the boards. On the season, the Raptors are a top 10 offensive rebounding team. The Bucks are a horrendous defensive rebounding squad, 27th in the league. Jonas Valanciunas, P.J. Tucker and Lowry should feast on the boards, which should help offset any problems the Bucks’ lengthy defenders give the Raptors’ primary scorers.
The Raptors might also need to learn from their last game against the Bucks. In the first quarter, the Raptors refused to match up for size, with Valanciunas guarded by Thon Maker, and got the ball inside. JV had 9 points on 4-of-4 shooting, 5 rebounds and an assist on route to being +10 in the quarter in 10 minutes.
The Raptors ignored him for the rest of the game, as he managed only 10 more minutes played, and had only one more FGA (and ended a +9 on the night). They would ultimately lose the game by 7, a -16 point swing while Valanciunas sat, playing lineups with Serge Ibaka or even Patrick Patterson at centre to match up with the Bucks’ smaller units. That was the only loss against Milwaukee in four games this year.
They were without Lowry in that one, but in the previous three matches, Valanciunas averaged over 10 FGA's (in 26 MPG) and was +24 over the course of the three wins.
The lesson appears to be: go big against this Bucks team, and don't match up unless you are absolutely getting killed defensively. Of note: JV had a 99 DRTG in 4 games against the Bucks this year, so there's no reason to suspect they can take advantage of his shortcomings on that end. The Bucks want teams to go small and let them off the hook with their weak rebounding and lack of interior presence.
All stats per NBA.com, and taken prior to Wednesday night’s games.