If you’re a fan of the Milwaukee Bucks, you’re either looking at tonight’s game against the Toronto Raptors as “just another regular season game to not worry about,” or you have this playing on repeat between now and tip-off:
Since we last checked in, the Bucks have not only confirmed their placement as the Eastern Conference’s top seed, but their first-round opponent (the Orlando Magic) is also locked in. Also confirmed is the rampant anti-Milwaukee bias at the league office. C’mon, Adam Silver, what even is this?!
Bucks earned home court advantage throughout the playoffs and in the first round they will play in Orlando against Orlando.— Alex Boeder (@alexboeder) August 10, 2020
More seriously, the playoff picture is snapping into focus. The Indiana Pacers continue to maintain their grip on the 5th seed, matching them up with the Miami Heat. The Boston Celtics are firmly planted in the 3rd seed, which will have them play the suddenly neutered Philadelphia 76ers. What this means is that the Bucks’ most likely path through to the NBA Finals is playing the Magic, Heat (or Pacers, but unlikely), and Raptors (or Celtics, maybe). That last part is why this game might be taken as seriously as any game in the bubble so far.
Player to Watch: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Not that we wouldn’t always watch him, but it would be nice to see him fully healthy after his encounter during the Dallas game.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is listed as probable for the game against Toronto with a toothache.— Kane Pitman (@KanePitman) August 9, 2020
In all seriousness, though, Giannis is going to need to be his fully-actualized self tonight if the Bucks want to make a statement against the Raptors. Mike Budenholzer almost definitely doesn’t care about this, but Giannis probably does, and the fanbase is going to be apoplectic if the Bucks get beat by their most likely ECF foes. All eyes will be on the MVP.
UPDATE: Well, so much for all that.
The 2 p.m. ET NBA injury update lists Giannis Antetokounmpo as OUT against the Raptors due to oral surgery.— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) August 10, 2020
Curious what this means for his timeline overall.
Brew Hoop Update
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Toronto is coming off of a bubble back-to-back; it’s not clear how much the fatigue incurred by a SEGABABA will affect them after beating the Memphis Grizzlies. They’ve been absolutely fine in Orlando, though, and have thoroughly established themselves as serious contenders to represent the East. The only concern that Toronto fans have are regarding the team’s turnovers, which lead the league at nearly 20 per game, but the Bucks are going to have their hands full.
The Raptors have no weak links on defense. Gasol and Ibaka are great rim protectors, while Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, and Norm Powell are three of the most athletic wings in the league, and Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet are powerfully built ball hawks who play much bigger than their size. It’s tough to beat any team when all of its shooters can play defense, too.
On the health front, only Patrick McCaw is unavailable for Toronto, having left the bubble to seek treatment for a knee issue.
Player to Watch: OG Anunoby
There is very little that Bucks fans don’t know about Kyle Lowry, or Marc Gasol, or Pascal Siakam, or (gulp) Fred VanVleet. But Anunoby is less of a known quantity, and the Bucks will need to find ways to make his presence on the floor a problem for Nick Nurse. He’s not a Giannis-stopper (nobody is), but will he be a nuisance for Khris Middleton? Is his 0.394 shooting from deep (a career high) a mirage, or the real deal? We know Serge Ibaka and Gasol are going to be allowed to shoot jumpers, will OG be allowed to as well? This game will be a valuable fact-finding mission for a series that we may see in a few weeks, when the stakes are raised.