UPDATE: Brandon Knight has been ruled out with a quad injury, with Jorge Gutierrez expected to start in his place.
Back in November, a young Bucks team--fresh off a winning streak that put them three games over .500--made the trip to Toronto to face a surging Raptors team who were battling for the top spot in the East. Milwaukee was riding high after an emotional victory in triple overtime in Brooklyn, and the buzz around the team was growing.
The Raptors then proceeded to obliterate the Bucks, cruising to a 124-82 victory.
Fast forward to January, and the Bucks are again visiting Toronto riding a three-game winning streak, the latest being an exciting and emotional victory at home over the Portland Trail Blazers. The streak has put the Bucks back up to three games over .500, and they will again face a surging Raptors team, who have won their last six games and only are behind the hottest team in basketball in the East.
A repeat performance isn't likely, but there are definitely a few reasons to be a bit concerned. Zaza Pachulia and Ersan Ilyasova's availability is still ranging somewhere between questionable and doubtful, and Toronto has already displayed their advantage in the paint in the first two matchups this season. If Pachulia and Ilyasova can't go, it will be up to John Henson, Kenyon Martin, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Johnny O'Bryant to limit the two-headed post monster of Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson. Yikes.
A six-game winning streak is generally a good thing, but the dominant Raptors of last season and earlier this season comes and goes, and it's a bit of a concern heading into the All-Star Break. Blake Murphy of Raptors Republic sheds a little bit of light on the matter:
"That tough stretch, it may be coming.
Even during the winning streak, there were some bad signs for the Raptors. While their offense was back to operating as the league's second best since Jan. 22, the defense remained nothing more than a fleeting idea of the aggressive scheme that ranked top-10 a year ago. Even during the winning streak, the Raptors gave up 104.8 points per-100 possessions, 24th in the NBA during that time. This isn't new - they rank 21st on the season and 27th since the calendar flipped to 2015. It's a serious issue, one without a clear solution."
In addition to a struggling defense, the Raptors have come off of a few tough overtime victories on the road while the Bucks have taken care of business rather comfortably during their mini winning streak. There isn't enough evidence to suggest that an upset is forthcoming, but the setting is certainly encouraging. Timing could definitely benefit the Bucks here, or none of this could matter at all. We'll see.
Upon typing this, both Ilyasova (groin) and Pachulia (calf) are listed as questionable for the game. It will be interesting to see how Jason Kidd decides to match up defensively with Toronto's frontcourt. Immediate logic would suggest sticking the two biggest guys on Valanciunas and Johnson, but that wasn't the strategy against Portland, when Giannis was stuck on Nicolas Batum instead of LaMarcus Aldridge or Meyers Leonard. Again, we'll see. Everything could change.
The Raptors injury report is much shorter, with James Johnson as the only inhabitant. He is out with a strained right hamstring.
Key Matchup: Every active Buck vs. Valanciunas and Johnson
Big surprise, right?!?
Toronto had 20 offensive rebounds in the last meeting between these two teams, and that was with a much healthier Milwaukee frontcourt. It would be foolish to expect guys like Kenyon Martin and Johnny O'Bryant to be able to hold their own, so the assignment of controlling that advantage will be dished out to the whole team. It'll be very tough, but all we're really asking for is about 10-20 rebounds from everyone, right? Super doable.
|2014/2015 NBA Season|
|February 2, 2015|
|Air Canada Centre | Toronto, ON|
|FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ|
|Kyle Lowry||PG||Jorge Gutierrez|
|Greivis Vasquez||SG||Khris Middleton|
|DeMar DeRozan||SF||Giannis Antetokounmpo|
|Amir Johnson||PF||Jared Dudley
|Jonas Valanciunas||C||John Henson|
|2014/15 Advanced Stats|
|95.9 (18th)||Pace||96.5 (13th)|
|109.5 (4th)||ORtg||101.7 (17th)|
|104.6 (21st)||DRtg||99.0 (2nd)|