Pulling up from their post-All star tailspin Friday night, the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the perennially contending/snakebitten Western conference foe in the Los Angeles Clippers, 112-101 with 48 minutes of hard-fought basketball in the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Saturday night brings the revamped Toronto Raptors to town who beat the Washington Wizards, 114-106, on Friday.
Moving forward with this confounding Bucks season this team continues to struggle with consistency, and their desire to play real basketball after the opening tip remains a game time decision. After a horrendous opening first half against Denver the other night, the Bucks walloped the Clippers out of the gates on Friday night. If playing top-tier teams is what gets this team going, hopefully that trend applies to the Raptors.
Giannis Antetokounmpo played exponentially better notching 24 points (on 77% shooting), 5 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals after spending two games slumping his way to 30% and 38% field goal percentages in dispirited efforts. The Bucks need Antetokounmpo to return to his All-Star form and consistency if the Bucks pipe dreams of sneaking into the playoffs in the Honorable Herb Kohl Eastern Conference 8th Seed™ are to come true.
After some controversy over Antetokounmpo’s minutes in back-to-backs earlier this week it’ll be something to watch if Coach Jason Kidd pushes the gyro-stepper to 40+ minutes like he did against Cleveland on the back end earlier this week. Continuing his slow progression back from the hamstring injury, Khris Middleton might play tonight in the second game of a back-to-back. Middleton’s production the past two games has been a much needed boost, especially after Michael Beasley’s injury, providing 19 points, 9 assists and four steals in the butterfinger battle against the Clippers.
Middleton’s floor spacing opens up so much room for Antetokounmpo to work, but he’s also been attacking off the dribble as a creator as well. Depending on if he tries to play, that could put the onus on Tony Snell to bring some offensive productivity. Snell hasn’t scored in double digits in the past three games, shooting sparsely and inefficiently over that stretch, while almost putting up a 28 Trillion against Utah the other week - Snell’s only point in the box score was a personal foul in 28 minutes.
Greg Monroe’s offensive punch and leadership was a huge factor in the Bucks victory over the Clippers (24 points), and the old-fashioned bruiser will have an interesting matchup against Toronto’s Lithuanian lumberer, Jonas Valanciunas, who plays a similar back to the basket style. Monroe’s potency, or even playtime, when the Raptors go small will be something to watch.
Matthew Dellavedova’s recent resurgence is a much needed development. By scoring efficiently and dishing dimes Delly boosted a bench unit with Brogdon starting in his stead. Milwaukee still hasn’t made the Terrence Jones signing official, and Michael Beasley remains unavailable with a hyperextended knee.
The Raptors will look to wrap up a season sweep of the Bucks in the fourth game of this lukewarm rivalry. However, this Raptor team got a facelift from General Manager Masai Ujiri who dealt for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker prior to the trade deadline to push this team toward contending for Eastern Conference supremacy.
The Raptors sit fourth in the East, just behind the Wizards whom they split a home-and-home with this past week, after slumping their way through January and February, and they now face some adversity with Kyle Lowry sidelined after wrist surgery while assimilating new players to their system.
Averaging 33.8 points over the past five games, their other All-Star guard, DeMar DeRozan, will be there to pick up the offensive slack alongside Cory Joseph who slides into Lowry’s starting position. Joseph is a very capable and productive guard who can guide them through muddy waters.
They can slide Ibaka, a huge improvement over Pascal Siakam and Lucas Nogueira, to the center and play a stretchy, switchy smallball lineup with shooters at every position. Ibaka’s a very capable defender against bruisers like Monroe or stringbean spacers like Thon Maker. In his first five games as a Raptor, Ibaka is averaging just under 17 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks.
Norman Powell coming off the bench provides a very capable backup guard, and DeMarre Carroll, despite not reaching his Atlanta Hawks era productivity, is a stretch four, 3 and D threat from all over the floor. The aforementioned Valanciunas is nearly averaging a double-double and will be a handful for Thon Maker, who struggled mightily against Deandre Jordan who is also a very large man, in the game’s opening minutes.
Kyle Lowry is the only Raptor not available on Saturday night.