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Raptors return home to battle the Bucks: Preview, start time, and more

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The Bucks sit at the top of the Eastern Conference. Can Toronto reclaim what is perhaps rightfully theirs? We prepare for tonight’s game

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks have been on a tear for [checks game logs] the entire season? Oh, lord. Hopefully, tonight’s game between the Raptors and Bucks will finally give a good indication as to how each team stacks up against each other.

It’s nearly February, around the time where teams typically begin to either round into form, or unravel, reverting to the mean and revealing their true colours. Even though there have been three previous meetings between these two Eastern Conference titans, we’ve only seen one healthy match-up (in early December). The last time the Raptors and Bucks played each other, Giannis went off for 43 points in a close loss to the Lowry-less Raptors.

By now, we’ve all become accustomed to hearing disappointing news about Kawhi sitting out games (usually back-to-backs). So, while it’s tempting to get excited about the prospect of watching Kawhi and Giannis go toe-to-toe once again, I’ll be tempering my expectations, if only to preserve my sanity.

That said, I’m a pessimist by nature (or because the Raptors have conditioned me to be). Toronto has had three nights off since playing the Mavericks, so fans can safely assume that Kawhi will suit up. If that’s the case, then we’re in for a treat. If not, that’s okay too: resting Kawhi for the playoffs is absolutely the right thing to do. As well, with Anthony Davis up for grabs, who even knows what these rosters might look like by February 7th? Tensions are high across the league, but don’t let it distract you from watching what’s sure to be a heck of a game,

Here are tonight’s details:

*****

Where to Watch:

TSN, 8:00 PM EST

Lineups:

Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka

Milwaukee – Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez

Injuries:

Toronto - Jonas Valanciunas (Thumb - out)

Milwaukee – Malcolm Brogdon (Chest - Probable), Eric Bledsoe (Thumb – probable)

*****

Tiebreaker

There are playoff implications if the Bucks come out on top tonight. With a W, Milwaukee secures the tiebreaker against Toronto, resulting in home court advantage if they end up with the same record at the end of the season. Given how close things have been between these two teams all season, the tiebreaker — and home court — will be something good to hold onto.

The Raptors are currently the league’s third-best performer on the road, good for a 59.3% winning percentage. But don’t let that fool you: regular season success is not always predictive of playoff performance. I expect Toronto to come out firing tonight considering their post-season fate may be, albeit to a marginal degree, on the line.

Crash the Boards

The Bucks are currently the league’s best rebounding team, pulling in 48.8 boards per game. Milwaukee’s aptitude in this area will force Toronto to focus its effort on the glass. That the Raptors are ranked a mere 16th in the league is something to keep in one’s mind too.

Unfortunately, while Jonas Valanciunas is nearing a return, he is unable to help the Raptors tonight; however, not all hope is lost, as Milwaukee is tied for just 26th in the league in offensive rebounds. Instead of crowding their own basket, the Raptors should look to get out quickly in transition, creating opportunities by pushing the pace off Milwaukee’s misses.

Limit the Bucks’ Possessions

Speaking of pace, the Bucks land just outside the top five teams in the league (ranked 6th) in terms of speed, while Toronto is a middle-of-the-road squad in that respect (ranked 17th). If the Raptors want to pull one out tonight, they cannot allow the Bucks to dictate the pace of the game. Seeing as Milwaukee is the league’s fourth-best team in terms of three-point attempts (13.2 per game), but just 16th in terms of three-point percentage (35%), Toronto will benefit greatly from limiting opposing opportunities from beyond the arc.

This assignment will fall largely into the hands of Danny Green, who will likely be tasked with guarding the Bucks’ best three-point shooter in Malcolm Brogdon (side note: I can’t believe I just had to look up who’s a better three-point shooter between Malcolm Brogdon and Brook Lopez).

Tonight, there are many other storylines that merit attention. Whether it be the MVP-calibre match-up between Kawhi and Giannis, C.J. Miles’ road back to relevancy, or gauging Anthony Davis’ potential suitors, this game oughta be a fun one.