Kawhi Leonard can’t solve all the Raptors’ problems. Of course, that goes without saying, but the notion was especially exemplified on Friday against the Nets. Kawhi’s dazzling athleticism and marksmanship were on full display, yet Toronto couldn’t pull off the OT win against one of the league’s worst teams, who were, prior to that night, on an eight-game skid. The Raptors struggled, chipping in their second-worst shooting night of the season (39.3 FG%). When did the Raptors shoot even worse, you may ask? Well, it may be slightly discouraging to hear, but it was against none other than the Milwaukee Bucks.
Now, the Raptors are looking to bounce back against that very team — one of the best in the league. However, the Bucks have been teetering lately, dropping half of their last eight games against a wide array of talent, ranging from the Suns to the Warriors. Perhaps looking to steady things up, the Bucks recently traded away John Henson, Matthew Dellavedova and a couple of picks for 11-year veteran guard George Hill. (The trade grants the Bucks $18-million in cap space to sign Khris Middleton when free agency hits this summer.)
Both these Eastern conference-topping teams are poised to take the leap into contention, and we’ll be seeing a potential playoff matchup tonight. Moreover, we’ll be privileged to watch two of the top MVP contenders, Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo, go head-to-head. As if that wasn’t enough drama, don’t forget that Mike Budenholzer spurned Toronto this summer, opting to become the head coach of the Bucks instead of the Raptors. I never let grudges go, and neither should you (in this scenario, at least). Let’s have some fun letting out some pent-up resentment.
Here are the game details for tonight:
Where to Watch:
TSN, 6:00 PM EST
Toronto: Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka
Milwaukee: Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez
Toronto: Norman Powell (dislocated shoulder)
Milwaukee: George Hill (day-to-day)
Contain the MVP
As previously mentioned, Kawhi and Giannis are considered two of the top contenders for MVP this season. Giannis has been an absolute beast in nearly every facet of his game, save for outside shooting. He has the ability to create for himself (sort of like a ‘roided-up version of Pascal Siakam) by taking long, quick strides and using his strength and length to finish at the rim.
In fact, out of all players with at least 10 games played taking at least five drives per game, Giannis ranks second in the league in field goal percentage, behind only Siakam. The Raptors will need JV’s composure on the inside to combat Giannis’ strength, as well as Kawhi’s rediscovered athleticism to contain Giannis on the perimeter. Much like Siakam, when Giannis is given space to drive, it’s a major problem.
How About Some Rebounding?
The Raptors have been struggling in this area, giving up far too many offensive rebounds leading to second-chance points. Against Brooklyn, Toronto gave up 16 boards in their own end. If the Bucks are given the same luxury, the Raps are in for a wakeup call. The Bucks rank first in the league in rebounding, and they can make you pay — currently, Milwaukee’s offensive rating ranks second in the league, one spot ahead of the Raptors.
This task of crashing the boards becomes especially troubling considering the Bucks’ three-point proficiency, raking first in the league in three-point shots made per game. If the Raptors crowd the glass in their own end and still miss the rebound, the kick out options for the Bucks are seemingly endless. Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe are all capable of making opposing teams pay from the three-point line.
Kawhi’s poise (aside from a couple notable turnovers) in the clutch has been generally excellent, and he’s put on a show against some of the best teams in the league. Tonight, the Raptors need him to come through, especially considering Kyle Lowry’s shooting woes as of late (.174 FG%, .150 3P% in December). When the Raptors make their threes, they can successfully challenge any team in the league. However, thus far Toronto ranks 23rd in three-point field goal percentage. If they want any chance against the Bucks’ stellar defense, they need to compose themselves and shake off any jitters they might be experiencing.