The Toronto Raptors are currently on a seven-game winning streak, which is the longest in the conference and third longest league-wide. They return from the All-Star break in Los Angeles in which their two best players competed in an exhilarating game that their coaching staff also participated in. (Dwane Casey helped guide Team LeBron to victory.) They are first in the East with 25 games remaining, and they own the best home record in the league.
Yes, all is good in Raptor Land.
The first two meetings between the Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks was thrilling for Raptor fans. On New Years day, DeMar DeRozan dropped a career and franchise high of 52 points in an overtime victory at the ACC. The second meeting just a few days later, the Raptors exploded in the third quarter for a season-high 43 points while limiting the Bucks to 19. Jonas Valanciunas bullied opposing big men John Henson and Thon Maker, outscoring their whole team in the quarter.
The Bucks fired coach Jason Kidd since the last time these two teams have met and currently sit 6th in the East, just one game back from the Wizards and 4th place. Since taking over, interim head coach Joe Prunty has led Milwaukee to a 9-3 record and the Bucks are seven games above .500 at 32-25.
Can the Raptors secure the season sweep? Here are details for the tonight’s game:
Where to Watch:
TSN4/5, 7:30 PM EST
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, OG Anunoby, Serge Ibaka, Jonas Valanciunas
Milwaukee – Eric Bledsoe, Tony Snell, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Thon Maker
Toronto – None
Milwaukee – John Henson (Sore right hamstring – Day-to-day), Malcolm Brogdon (Torn left quadricep tendon – OUT), Matthew Dellavedova (Sprained right ankle – OUT), Mirza Teletovic (Illness – OUT)
Front Court Dominance
In the last meeting, Toronto’s starting big men were phenomenal. Ibaka logged 29 minutes and finished with 21 points on an efficient 8-of-12 shooting and a plus/minus of 35, while Valanciunas recorded 20 points (all in the third quarter), 13 rebounds (9 in the third), and shot 8-of-9, all in 17 minutes of play. When Jason Kidd was asked in the post game presser what they could do to stop Valanciunas that night, he said “I hope they take him out, that’s all we could do.”
Valanciunas forceful play makes him a tough assignment for defenses, especially against smaller front courts like the Bucks. With John Henson day-to-day with a hamstring injury, Thon Maker and Tyler Zeller look to take the minutes left behind. In his most recent outing, Maker was a plus/minus game low of -20 in 17 minutes and he was on the wrong side the fastest triple double recorded from Nikola Jokic. Now, he has Valanciunas waiting. Good luck.
A Different Milwaukee
Since Kidd took over Milwaukee in the 2014-15 season, Toronto has posted a record of 11-2 in regular season competition against the Bucks. (We won’t talk about the playoffs here.) With his firing in late January and the subsequent appointment of Joe Prunty as the interim coach, Milwaukee has won nine of their last 12 games. During that stretch, the Bucks have had the second best defense in the league, with a rating of 100.4 (points allowed per 100 possessions). In addition, Jabari Parker has returned and is slowly being acclimated with the team. In short, this is a different team.
However, Milwaukee has faced eight teams under .500 in the stretch since Kidd’s firing and only beat one team with a winning record. Their three losses came in an 89-108 loss in Minnesota, an 85-91 loss in Miami, and a 123-134 loss to the visiting Nuggets. They also have been hit with the injury bug, losing key rotational players Brogdon and Dellavedova for extended time. It seems like the renewed energy since Kidd’s firing is starting to fade and Raptors have a chance to take advantage.
The Raptors bench mob has been on a tear, propelling the Raptors on this seven-game win streak. Their play this month has afforded the starters valuable rest for the stretch run of the season. Since a close 119-122 loss to the Wizards on February 1st, the Raptors rattled off six of their past seven wins by a margin of 15 or more points.
Despite being touted as one of the best benches in the league and continuously building leads and mounting comebacks, the young bench has had trouble with the Bucks reserves. In the 131-127 OT win on New Years Day, they were outscored 42-35. Brogdon finished with 15 points, Maker with 16 points on 3-of-4 from deep, and Dellavedova finished with six points to go along with 10 assists. In the second meeting, those three combined for 39 points on 56 percent shooting. However, with notable Raptor killers Malcolm Brogdon, Matthew Dellavedova, and Mirza Teletovic all out for the third and final contest, let’s see if bench mob can handle their business and help the Raps complete the season sweep.