After losing a close game against the 76ers on Wednesday 114-109, the Bucks look to find their footing against a Toronto Raptors team that has struggled of late as well. Crossing the border for this frigid, northern matchup won’t be easy for a struggling Bucks team and their leaky defense against a Raptors squad that’s prone to put up points at will.
Spirits were lifted after a watershed victory over the Rockets on Monday, but the loss to a bottom-tier team lacking their top-tier talent on Wednesday was more than discouraging. Entering Friday night with a 1-6 record in their last seven games the Bucks sit three games below .500 at 21-24 and two games back of the eighth-seeded Bulls.
The Bucks defensive woes continued as the 76ers manipulated the Bucks defense with ease, finding holes and open lanes for uncontested layups and notching 72 points in the first half alone.
A first quarter explosion and a solid comeback occurred behind a season-high 28 points from Greg Monroe, including some clutch offensive rebounds down the stretch to keep the game tight, as the Bucks bench put in another solid performance. Jabari Parker scored a starter’s high with 20 points and Giannis Antetokounmpo ended with 17 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals.
With another poor showing in crunch time - three untimely turnovers led to the Bucks demise - the Bucks need to show the maturity and gumption to play well down the stretch as the season wears on and games become more pressing and impactful. The defense needs to show the ability to shut down teams without superstars, like the 76ers the other night, and teams with multiple, Friday night’s Toronto Raptors. With clutch scorers in their backcourt, the Bucks defensive scheme will be stressed to a greater extent on Friday, and if it’s close down the stretch, can the Bucks shut down a go to scorer like Kyle Lowry?
John Henson got his second straight DNP-Coach’s Decision on Wednesday, so look for Miles Plumlee to get his third start in as many games, and Matthew Dellavedova is expected to remain a starter with Malcolm Brogdon coming off the bench.
A loss to the Raptors is nothing to get upset about, but catching them on a five-game losing streak is an ample opportunity to steal a win against the Drakes.
The Toronto Raptors sit in second place in the east, a half game ahead of the Celtics, with a 28-18 record this season. Losing to the 76ers, Hornets and Suns isn’t great, but they’ve lost two straight one-possession games against Western Conference elites in the Spurs and Grizzlies, so I would expect the Raptors to be looking for a vengeful homecoming against the Bucks.
Continuing to let loose from mid-range, all star starter Demar DeRozan is averaging 28 points per game, and his backcourt partner Kyle Lowry is playing some of the best basketball of his career in a contract year, averaging 22 points per game, 7 assists per game and is shooting 42% from behind the arc.
This deadly backcourt combination can score on command. Relentless off ball movement and great defense make Lowry a handful without the ball in his hands, and DeRozan is questionable for Friday’s game with an ankle injury after missing the past two games.
Jonas Valanciunas, averaging a double-double, is a load down low for any of the Bucks cavalcade of big men but shouldn’t be too much of a worry on the defensive end even though he’s been snagging rebounds at a career rate in the past ten games.
Second-rounder Norman Powell continues a successful sophomore campaign and will most likely start in DeRozan’s place. Terrence Ross is firing away from deep, and Lucas Nogueira’s rim protection has been a welcome addition for Toronto this season. Watch the Raptor’s forwards, DeMarre Carroll and Patrick Patterson, defensively to start out as they get their respective Giannis or Jabari assignments.