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Raptors battle league-leading Bucks: Preview, start time, and more

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After blowing out the Pacers by a record-setting margin, the Raptors take on the championship-hopeful Milwaukee Bucks.

Toronto Raptors v Milwaukee Bucks Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Before we discuss tonight’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks, let’s take a step back. The Raptors’ record is currently 42-15, good for third-best in the league. The team is on pace to finish the season with the highest win total in franchise history, and most recently pummelled the Indiana Pacers into oblivion. Of course, let’s not forget about the injury-ridden 15-game win streak that put the entire league on notice.

Folks, this Raptors team is good. More than that though, this team is fun, fearless and exhaustingly relentless. After the aforementioned 46-point win over the Pacers on Sunday, Nick Nurse showered Kyle Lowry with deserved praise, proclaiming his admiration for Lowry’s tenacious nature.

The undrafted rookie with a chip on his shoulder, Terence Davis, is imbued with a ferocity that you can’t teach, but you can nurture and optimize. Lowry has been an exemplary role model for Davis thus far, and when it eventually comes time to pass the torch, Davis will be ready.

The Milwaukee Bucks may be, statistically, the best team in the league. But, before the Raptors face off against Giannis Antetokounmpo and company tonight, I implore you to appreciate what we have. Never before have I watched such a fun Toronto basketball team, both on and off the court. Over the last 15 games, the Raptors have employed the league’s fourth best offense, second best defense, and lead the league in SPG (Scarves Per Game).

Earlier this year, the Raptors played the Bucks while both teams were settling into their respective grooves. Despite a third-quarter surge (and some individual brilliance from Lowry), the Raptors failed to hang on and lost 115-105. Nurse had no answer for Giannis, who decimated Toronto en route to a stat line of 36 points, 15 rebounds and 8 assists. Will Nurse change up his game plan this time around? Let’s find out!

Here are the details for tonight’s game:

Where to Watch:

TSN, 7:30 PM ET

Lineups:

Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka

Milwaukee — Eric Bledsoe, Wesley Matthews, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Robin Lopez

Injuries:

Toronto — Marc Gasol (Hamstring – Out), Norman Powell (Finger – Out), Patrick McCaw (Illness – Questionable), Dewan Hernandez (Ankle – Out)

Milwaukee — Kyle Korver (Back – Out), Brook Lopez (Back – Out)

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From Teammates to Rivals

Over the All-Star weekend, Giannis got a taste of what life is like with Nurse, Siakam and Lowry by his side. As a totally unbiased observer, I must say they looked pretty, pretty… pretty good. Antetokounmpo witnessed firsthand what it looks like when a team’s starting point guard plays with every fibre of his being, even during a traditionally meaningless contest.

But now, it’s time to touch base with reality. Giannis and the Bucks are the Raptors’ conference rivals, and the heartwarming joviality of All-Star weekend will be left in the past come the inevitably intense game later tonight.

Nick Nurse has stated that he’ll look to increase Pascal’s touches as the season winds down, hoping the experience helps bolster his play come playoff time. The last time these two teams faced off in November, Giannis reigned supreme over Pascal, who shot just 37 percent from the field that night and fouled out in 32 minutes. It’ll be interesting to see how Siakam has progressed since their initial meeting; in addition to hunting and attacking switches, he must demonstrate some success from the perimeter. When Pascal clicks from the outside, it helps lure Giannis out of the paint, opening cutting lanes for the Raptors’ guards.

Cream City

Though a bit icky, Milwaukee’s “Cream City” nickname is apropos considering they have been consistently creaming teams right from the get-go. For the Raptors to stand a chance, the team must exude its trademark energy from the moment the players step out on the floor. Milwaukee is the proud owner of the league’s best defense, so Toronto can’t rely on a second-half comeback as they have in previous games. If the Bucks build an early sizeable lead, the Raptors’ chances of winning diminish considerably.

Toronto must set an aggressive tone for the game, and prey on Milwaukee’s weaknesses. The Bucks rank just 17th in the league in turnovers per game, so I expect Lowry and VanVleet to pester Eric Bledsoe on the defensive end, goading him into making careless mistakes and keeping the ball out of Giannis’ hands as often as possible. Luckily, the Bucks are playing the latter half of a back-to-back, so tired legs may benefit Toronto tonight.

The last time these two teams played, the Raptors guarded Giannis with an array of players including OG, Siakam, Ibaka and Gasol — to no avail. Now missing Gasol, the Raptors will have an even tougher time containing the Greek Freak. If, however, the Raptors’ big men can anticipate Giannis’ spots and position themselves such that he has little room to operate, it may slow him down enough to force turnovers and kick-outs to lesser threats. If Khris Middleton steps up to beat Toronto, so be it.

Playoff Preview?

Tonight, the Raptors will face their first true test of the season. The last time these two teams played back in November, Nick Nurse had yet to discover his bench, chock-full of grit, talent, and Patrick McCaw (who displays neither of those assets, but I digress). This game can be considered a measuring stick of sorts, though the Raptors’ fearless coach has never been one to shy away from experimentation in the regular season. Even if Giannis single-handedly destroys the Raptors once again, let’s not overreact; Toronto is currently depleted by injuries, and when it comes to shutting down Giannis come playoff time, I don’t expect Nurse to show his hand just yet.

On the flip side, if the Raptors pull off the win tonight, it doesn’t mean Mike Budenholzer won’t figure out a way to adjust when it matters most. While this game might very well be reflective of how the teams are currently playing, game plans are always subject to change in April, May and June. That said, feel free to slander the Bucks on social media as you see fit, regardless of outcome. I certainly will.