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Raptors vs. Bucks Preview: Bucks return home looking to stay hot vs. chasing Raptors

Fresh off road wins over the Mavericks and Rockets, the Bucks return home to face Rudy Gay and the new-look Raptors, whose current three-game losing streak has dropped them 6.5 games behind the 8th-seeded Bucks.

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2012/2013 NBA Season
(23-36, 8-20 road)
(28-28, 14-14 home)
March 2, 2013
BMO Harris Bradley Center | Milwaukee, WI
FS Wisconsin HD | 620 WTMJ
Probable Starters
Kyle Lowry PG Brandon Jennings
DeMar DeRozan SG Monta Ellis
Rudy Gay SF Luc Mbah a Moute
Amir Johnson PF Ersan Ilyasova
Jonas Valanciunas C Larry Sanders
2012/13 Advanced Stats
89.9 (25th) Pace 94.6 (4th)
105.9 (12th) ORtg 102.9 (23rd)
107.7 (24th) DRtg 103.9 (10th)

On the Raptors: Raptors HQ | RaptorBlog

Raptors update. Toronto has lost three in a row after a stretch of six wins in seven games, their latest defeat a 93-81 loss to the Pacers last night. Much has changed in Toronto since the Bucks claimed a 107-96 comeback win on January 13, when the Bucks overcame an early 20-point deficit behind 19 points from John Henson. In that game Ed Davis was a handful for Ersan Ilyasova and the Bucks down low while Jose Calderon scorched the Bucks early in P&R, but both of them were shipped out in the blockbuster that brought Rudy Gay to Canada.

So who's left? Well, Gay is averaging 20.5 ppg and 6.7 rpg in 13 games since the trade, but his 38.7% shooting has left plenty to be desired. Up front, Jonas Valanciunas and Andrea Bargnani missed the Bucks' win in Toronto, but both are now back and give the Raptors a different look at the big spots. The 20-year-old Valanciunas is a space-eater in the best sense of the word. He's not much of an offensive presence at this point, having attempted four or fewer shots in eight straight games, but he's a promising rebounder with a massive frame and has the kind of soft touch that should eventually make him an effective offensive player as well.

Things are decidedly less rosy for Bargnani. The 2006 first overall pick has gone scoreless in three of Toronto's last five games and most Raptor fans want nothing more than to see the Italian shipped out for cap relief. For more on the Raptors, we did a quick Q&A with Adam Francis from Raptors HQ:

Q: Has the Rudy Gay Experience been better/worse/as expected thus far?

If you were to have asked me this question a week ago I would have said better than expected but of late, yep, this is pretty much the outcome I envisioned when the Raptors acquired him. There's no question that Gay is the most talented swingman this team has had since Vince Carter, but to me his acquisition really didn't move the needle considering what the club gave up. They essentially exchanged two very efficient offensive players in Jose Calderon and Ed Davis, for one high-scoring, albeit inefficient one, and we've really seen that the past few games. Add on Rudy Gay's salary obligations and while I agree that you had to try and get something for Calderon before he expired, I'm not sure this was the move unless you could move other pieces around too. However the salary obligations to said other pieces (Andrea Bargnani, Landry Fields, Linas Kleiza etc) have made that impossible at least in the short term, so you're stuck with a club that to me, is pretty much as good as it was before the trade.

Q: How would you handicap the Raps' playoff odds with about 1/3 of the season remaining?

Zero. In all honesty the idea of playoffs considering the Raptors' woeful 4 and 19 start, was a bit of a pipe dream to start with, but with losses to Cleveland, Washington and Indiana, last night, we should just close the book on any post-season aspirations. Yes, mathematically there's still a chance but Toronto would need to win the lion's share of games from here on out to get to 42 or so wins (likely the number needed for eighth in the East) and as of now, the club's on pace for about 10 less wins.

Q: Where do you see the team heading in the long term? Is it a Jonas/Rudy/DeMar core at this point, or is even that up in the air?

That's the million dollar question as for the umpteenth time during the Bryan Colangelo era, I have no idea. The club is constantly stuck between doing a proper rebuild and eking into the playoffs and we're seeing this movie yet again this season.

Last summer it looked like the club was back on track, hiring a defensive-minded coach in Dwane Casey, stockpiling talented young assets like Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross, and keeping the club's financial obligations reasonable. Add on the giant leap forward in development from Ed Davis, and Kyle Lowry's arrival, and it looked like things were at least heading in the right direction.

However soon after Colangelo doled out a pretty generous and optimistic contract extension for DeMar DeRozan, and then things began to unravel. He again held onto a depreciating asset too long in terms of Andrea Bargnani (Bosh would have been the first go-round of this sort), and made the move for Rudy Gay, putting the club squarely in luxury tax territory, without a playoff round to show for it.

Minus some of the other contracts and players on the club, the Rudy Gay deal makes some sense as paired with Lowry, Ross and Valanciunas, that's not a bad core going forward. However what do you do with the near $61M owed to Bargnani, DeRozan, Kleiza and Fields over the next couple seasons? Even if you can move a few of those deals under the tighter CBA, can you get anything of value in return?

So to answer your question, there really is a lot up in the air, especially since Colangelo may not even be the man in charge next season. He's in the final year of his current contract and needs an extension to remain the one pulling the club's proverbial strings.

Bucks' big man depth tested. Ekpe Udoh is listed as doubtful for tonight's game with a sprained ankle, and it's not clear how Sam Dalembert fits in the Bucks' rotation after missing the last two games. Dalembert reportedly wanted a buyout after not being traded at the deadline, which may or may not explain why he was late for shootaround ahead of the win in Dallas. He was suspended for that game and didn't play the following night in Houston either, so it would certainly seem as though he's worked his way into Jim Boylan's doghouse after accomplishing the same feat with Scott Skiles earlier in the year. That would mean more minutes for Henson, who scored 12 points on six shots in 13 minutes in Houston.

Otherwise, Brandon Jennings was excused from Friday's practice to tend to a sick relative in L.A., while Mike Dunleavy practiced despite an ankle sprain suffered in Houston. Both are expected to play tonight.