Here we go, gang. In their 50th game of the season, the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks show down against the second-seeded Toronto Raptors. Tonight’s game is hosted by our friendly neighbor to the north, and will determine whether or not Milwaukee claims a 3-1 lead on the season series (and therefore owns the tiebreaker over the Raptors), or if the Bucks get deadlocked with Toronto at 2-2. Don’t look now, but home court advantage through the conference finals could be secured with a victory tonight.
Milwaukee’s streak of “never losing two games in a row” lives on this season; after dropping a tough loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, the Bucks took care of business against the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday. Milwaukee was somewhat shorthanded in the Motor City, missing both Malcolm Brogdon and Sterling Brown, alongside Donte DiVincenzo (who is in a walking boot and out of action until further notice).
This will be the third of five road games for the Bucks, and while they’re not on a back-to-back the disruption in routine (and possible consumption of poutine) puts the Bucks at a slight disadvantage. The good news is that Mike Budenholzer has been able to keep his core players’ workloads manageable; over the last five games, Giannis Antetokounmpo (35.2 mpg), Khris Middleton (32.4 mpg), and Eric Bledsoe (31.0 mpg) have all seen a subtle increase in minutes without any giant spikes, which should keep them fresh for if this crucial Eastern Conference matchup (and possible conference finals preview) needs them to go longer than normal.
Player to Watch: Thon Maker
What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? In this case, #TorontoThon is the former, whereas his three straight DNPs (and five out of the last eight games) provided by Mike Budenholzer coinciding with a report that Thon wants to play more (or else!) serves as the latter. Thon has been out of the rotation for some time now, giving way to D.J. Wilson (who’s been good!) and Ersan Ilyasova (who has not been...) taking minutes in the front court. Coach Bud isn’t exactly incentivized to play Thon after his agent made the trade request public, but there also are few players who strike fear into the hearts of Raptors fans than Thon Maker himself. Will this be the game where Bud dusts off his Money Maker and lets Ersan ride the pine?
An optimist might look at Toronto and say, “Hey, they’ve lost 2 of their last 3, and are only 4-3 in their last 7! The Raptors are vulnerable!” A realist might look at their 10-4 January record and respond that sure, maybe the Raptors are having an off week, but they’re still in the same tier as Milwaukee and cannot be counted out. Coming off of three days’ rest, it’s expected that Kawhi Leonard will play, and there’s even a chance that big bruiser Jonas Valunciunas returns from a thumb injury. Sure, maybe Toronto gets into the Anthony Davis conversation, and maybe they somehow convince Kawhi to make his new pad a part-time home. They know that a win over the Bucks tonight would be a step in the right direction on all those fronts, not to mention overcoming an obstacle on their own path to the Finals.
Player to Watch: Kyle Lowry
Which version of the 13-year veteran will show up tonight on TNT? Will we see the floor general averaging a career-high 9.4 assists per game? Or will we be greeted by the wayward shooter who hasn’t hit a three (0/14) in a game against the Bucks yet this season? Serge Ibaka is an obvious beneficiary of the Bucks’ extreme zone drop defense, and Pascal Siakam does so many little things well that he can’t be completely neutralized, but it’s hard to ignore that Toronto has lost both contests to the Bucks that Lowry participated in, and won the game he sat out for.
Game 50: Against the Raptors, the Bucks will...
This poll is closed
Win big (by 10 or more points)
Win close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose big (by 10 or more points)