After an extended break over the All-Star weekend, the Bucks are back in action tonight against the Eastern Conference leading Toronto Raptors. Milwaukee won nine of their last twelve heading into the week off, however they will be keen to atone poor recent performances against the Raptors, specifically on the road. The only win in the last eight trips to the Air Canada Centre for the Bucks came in game one of last years NBA Playoffs. The 7 losses have come with an average losing margin of 14 points, it really hasn’t been a happy hunting ground to say the least.
Despite taking care of business during a light stretch in the schedule, the Bucks last outing was a disappointing home loss to the Denver Nuggets. Unable to absorb a historic three point barrage, the Bucks gave up 134 points en route to a 11 point home loss. The Nuggets finished 24-40 from deep (60%), as they controlled the game virtually from the outset. The Bucks big three of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton combined for 80 points but it wasn’t enough. Though Giannis posted his first triple double of the season with 36 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists to go with 3 blocks in a commanding all-round performance.
All-Star weekend may have come at the wrong time for Toronto, as they have won seven straight contests and have now surged two games clear of Boston at the top of the Eastern Conference standings. The Toronto offense is ranked fourth in the league in offensive rating and they have now scored 100+ points in their last ten contests, the only loss amongst those coming against the Washington Wizards by only 3 points.
Both teams will be hoping their All-Star talent stay hot, as Antetokounmpo, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry all participated in Sundays entertaining showcase game. Unfortunately for the trio of ‘Team Curry’ team mates, they came out on the wrong side of the hotly contested fourth quarter stanza, 145-148.
On the injury front, Milwaukee will again be missing Malcolm Brogdon (quad) and Matthew Dellavedova (ankle), while John Henson (hamstring) and Tyley Zeller (gastro) are listed as probable. Jabari Parker will continue his return from his second ACL surgery, as he no doubt spent the time off recovering and continuing to work hard to get himself into game shape for the resuming regular season. For Toronto, they appear to have a clean bill of health, a clean injury report a welcome sight for any NBA team at this time of the year.
Toronto has taken the first two games in the season series, after wiping the Bucks from the Playoffs last season. Milwaukee will be desperate to continue their climb in the standings and make a statement against a team they may face yet again come April/May. It feels like forever since the Bucks took the court just last week, lets get back into it.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Fast Break Dominance: it’s no secret that the Bucks are tough to stop when they are getting out in transition. Antetokounmpo, Bledsoe, and Jabari Parker are all fearful propositions for the opposition defense in those situations. Over the two games between the two teams so far this season, Milwaukee lead the fast break points count 34-16. They must continue to push the ball and get easy points against what is the leagues fourth best defensive unit.
- Deny DeRozan Part II: This was one of my keys to victory in the second meeting against Toronto and it remains a key tonight. After dropping a franchise record 52 points on the Bucks on New Years Day, the Bucks somewhat quelled DeRozan in game 2. He still finished with 20 points on 7-12 shooting in a game the Raptors were able to put in cruise control early. They’ve already thrown just about everyone they can at him so far with little success. It’s crucial they slow down the four time All-Star if they are to escape with an upset win.
- Rejuvenated Khris: Middleton is averaging 20.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game on the season, in what has been a career year for the 26 year old. His three point shooting however has been a disappointment. A career 40 percent sniper from deep before the season began, Middleton is languishing at 34.6 percent, well below league average. He is taking a career high 5.2 attempts per game, but his typically flat jump shot is not finding the mark. Sitting second in the league for minutes per game when Jason Kidd was fired, Middleton has seen his minutes slightly decrease under Joe Prunty. The reduced load combined with an extended break will hopefully see a refreshed Khris find the range.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus