With 26 games remaining in the regular season, the Raptors are currently seven games back of the Milwaukee Bucks for first place in the Eastern Conference. To their credit, the Bucks have been an absolute steamroller this year, crushing teams with their league-leading defense and third-ranked offense. For the Raptors to catch them, they’d have to win Tuesday night’s game in Toronto — and then hope that Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, uh, just completely fall apart down the stretch. One half of that statement is unlikely.
The other half, however, could very well come to pass. What’s more, that part also contains meaning regardless of where these two teams end up in the final accounting of the East’s standings. The Bucks are coming to Toronto on Tuesday night, up 1-0 in the season series against the Raptors, and looking for all the world like a team ready to claim the 2020 NBA title. They’re first in the league, a 48-8 juggernaut, and they play with a fury reserved by only the best teams.
But why are the Bucks so angry? Ah, well, that’s easy to explain. It’s because the Raptors are the team that derailed their supposed title hopes last year. In 2018-19 the Bucks were a presumptive title favourite too — they’d won 60 games, they had the league MVP, and they played with the best defense and fourth best offense. Up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Bucks seemed ready to go all the way to the championship. But “seemed” is doing a lot of work in that sentence. We all know what happened next: four straight wins for the Raptors, a surfeit of remarkable turning point moments, and Toronto in the Finals instead of Milwaukee. It must still sting for the Bucks.
In that broader context, Tuesday’s game in Toronto takes on all kinds of added signficance. The Raptors want to prove, after winning 16 of 17 games (including a franchise-record 15 straight), that they can measure up to the Bucks’ league-leading ways. They want to prove they can (and will) beat the Bucks again when it counts. They want to send that kind of message. The Bucks, meanwhile, want to win and send their own message. They want to fervently insist that’s all in the past. That those games in that series were an aberration. That while the Raptors are most definitely different this season, they’ve changed too.
As always, it’s just one regular season game, a single link in a longer chain — but Tuesday’s contest does remain connected to moments from both the past and, presumably, the future. If things continue as they do, with the Raptors and Bucks in first and second in the East, it stands to reason these two teams could meet in the Eastern Conference Finals once again. Things will be different, but the stakes will be the same: extremely high.
Now here are the game details are below — and here’s a link to where you can buy tickets.
Where: Scotiabank Arena, Toronto
When: Tuesday, February 25th at 7:30pm EST
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