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Bucks vs. Raptors Preview: Giannis and Jabari head north to face division-leading Raptors

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Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Predictable coachspeak aside, the Milwaukee Bucks surely have one eye on tomorrow's matchup with the (as of this writing) unbeaten Golden State Warriors, but before that date with destiny, the Bucks have another daunting task in front of them tonight: a showdown with the division-leading Toronto Raptors, currently the third-place team in the Eastern Conference. Toronto is two days removed from a hard-fought win over the San Antonio Spurs and shouldn't be overlooked by anybody right now. Can the Bucks preview one massive upset with a merely-sizable one?

Bucks Update

The Bucks are riding an 8-game road losing streak and haven't beaten a team with a record over .500 in nearly a month. They're coming off another blowout loss in which they gave up twelve made three-pointers, the tenth time they've allowed their opponents to sink ten or more shots from distance. Since putting up 118 points in the track meet with Sacramento in late November, the Bucks have a 95.5 offensive rating, which would rank ahead of only the Philadelphia 76ers this season. Is there room for hope against the dinosaurs?

If there is, its going to have to show up early. As Eric wrote in recapping the Clippers game, Milwaukee was doomed by the ineptness of their starting lineup compared to LA's. Like the Clips, Toronto relies on a talented group of starters headlined by a few stars, but doesn't have a ton of depth. Injuries have sapped some of the Bucks' depth, particularly at guard, making strong performances by their top players tantamount to success.

Getting those performances with consistency has been a problem, and it's not unfair to start the finger-pointing with Khris Middleton. Over his last three games, Khris is shooting just 28% from the floor while attempting substantially fewer three-pointers. While the Bucks' current starting lineup boasts a bit more shooting with O.J. Mayo at the point, Milwaukee desperately needs at least a second reliable shooter--that much was evident all the time when Middleton was the only shooter on the floor to start games. Does the lineup shakeup have anything to do with Middleton's recent struggles? Was Michael Carter-Williams (or at least, an offense with MCW as the triggerman) more effective at getting Khris the ball in the right spots? It feels to early to say so just yet, and for what it's worth, Mayo has seen a noticeable uptick in his assists since the swticheroo. He isn't dominating the ball like one might worry. More likely, if anything at all, is that unfamiliarity breeds mistakes, and a guy like Middleton, who thrives on rhythm shooting from well-executed plays, is just hung up getting used to the new cog in the machine.

And for what it's worth, Giannis Antetokounmpo still needs to shoot a lot more. He needs to do a lot of things a lot more.

Raptors Scouting Report

On Wednesday, Toronto became the first team all season to hit more than half of its shots against the San Antonio Spurs, who currently boast the NBA's stingiest defense by a wide margin (94.5, nearly 5 points better than the second-place Celtics). Leading the charge were the Raptors' two top scorers and starting backcourt, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Although each was a little sloppy with the ball (ten turnovers between them), they combined for 47 points on 16-26 shooting.

DeRozan's season shouldn't be overlooked: he's established remarkable consistency over the past few seasons, providing solid rebounding and passing numbers to augment volume scoring on roughly average efficiency (and I mean that as a good thing). But Lowry has been sensational, clearly looking like the Eastern Conference's best point guard and an obvious All-Star. Granted, his numbers are predicated at least in part on a significant jump in three-point accuracy and attempt rate that isn't guaranteed to last, but the ancillary numbers only bear out how well he's playing: Toronto is over 12 points/100 possessions better with Lowry on the court, per Basketball-Reference.com. And the other end of the floor is no different. ESPN's Real Plus-Minus rates Lowry the best defensive point guard in the NBA by a margin that can only be described as...gaping? Extreme? Cavernous? Not sure.

Beyond Lowry and DeRozan, however, there's less to worry about. The next-leading scorer Toronto will have available tonight could very well be Luis Scola. Jonas Valanciunas remains out after breaking his hand earlier in the year, while DeMarre Carroll is out indefinitely owing to a knee contusion. There aren't a ton of other weapons available for the Raptors (Terrence Ross did score 22 in his first start of the season Monday against the Lakers), though it's hard to expect Milwaukee's 27th-ranked defense to take advantage of something the Spurs couldn't.

Daily Fantasy Tip

For the Raptors, Lowry's a safe bet to do something big, it's just a question of whether he's affordable. The stars are looking awfully aligned, though. He's been remarkably consistent this season, he's shooting the lights out (something the Bucks have been happy to accommodate this year), and Toronto has little in the way of other options than to let Lowry run wild.

For the Bucks, Greg Monroe is looking at a similarly salivating situation. He's likely to be facing off against Bismack Biyombo when the ball tips, and Biyombo's something of a fouling machine. Given the Raptors' depleted lineup, Monroe should see a fair amount of the free-throw line--Toronto can't throw anybody at Monroe in the post capable of staying with him consistently. Monroe's got double-digit rebounds in four straight games and his price has come down a bit from its early-season high. He looks like a solid selection tonight.

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(Editor's Note: all the opinions expressed here are my own. FanDuel gave me some cash to play daily fantasy games)

On the Raptors: Raptors HQRaptors RepublicToronto Star

2015/16 NBA Season
Toronto raptors.v69a9079
(14-9, 6-4 home)
vs.
Milwaukee bucks.vc6d60d4
(9-14, 2-9 road)
December 11, 2015
Air Canada Centre | Toronto, ON
6:30 CT
Fox Sports Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ
Probable Starters
Kyle Lowry PG O.J. Mayo
DeMar DeRozan SG Khris Middleton
Terrence Ross SF Giannis Antetokounmpo
Luis Scola PF Jabari Parker
Bismack Biyombo C Greg Monroe
2014/15 Advanced Stats
93.7 (26th) Pace 93.1 (29th)
107.2 (3rd) ORtg 101.6 (24th)
103.3 (13th) DRtg 108.4 (27th)