Tonight’s game versus Milwaukee launches a series of sub-500 Eastern Conference teams Toronto will play in their final six regular season games. Having secured a trip to the post season, Toronto’s emphasis now shifts to acquiring home court, ideally as the third seed. Wins are crucial over this final stretch, so the fact Toronto ground out victories over top four seeded: Houston and Indiana without leaders Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson showcases the character of this Raptor squad.
Before we break it down, KL Chouinard, a writer and editor for Bucksketball a division of ESPN True Hoop Network was kind enough to answer a few questions.
After a 5-year absence from post season play Toronto fans are thrilled to be in the playoffs, but at the beginning of the season many were open to having a sub-par year just to be in the running to snag Toronto native: Andrew Wiggins in this summer’s draft. Given Milwaukee is guaranteed a top 3-pick, would you say he is the Bucks number one choice or would Embiid or Parker be a better fit?
It’s a tough question, and I’m not sure we’ll ever find out the answer (although I hope we do). The Bucks have holes all over, and they’ll be picking the best player available regardless of position. On the other hand, even the worst record only guarantees them a 25% chance of picking first. It is quite likely that the player they want most isn’t available to them even after the most tank-tastic of seasons.
If I had to pick my personal choice to improve the Bucks, though I would start with Wiggins.
It’s been reported young upstart Giannis Antetokounmpo has grown over an inch since training camp and is still growing! This season we’ve witnessed glimpses of brilliance on both ends of the court from him, and it’s obvious he has a huge upside. Given Milwaukee will add a top draft pick this summer what role do you envision he will take moving forward? Specifically: do you see him growing into a leadership role, will the offense be tailored for him to be one of the Bucks top scoring options and do you foresee a starting front court of Wiggins (assuming he becomes a Buck), Antetokounmpo and Sanders?
There are a lot of comparisons to Kevin Durant, because they have the same body type, but I don’t think Giannis will ever approach Durant when it comes to scoring. He’s not that type of player. The strength of his game lies in transition and potentially in playing defense — provided he gets stronger and learns the nuances of fighting through picks and screens.
I could see Wiggins, Antetokounmpo and Larry Sanders playing together but not as a front court, because they would need a power forward to help them rebound.
The Raptors have won the first two outings versus the Bucks, but the height of Henson bothered them and now with the addition of Sessions the back court could pose some issues for Toronto, especially if Lowry doesn’t play. Is the key to beating Milwaukee containing the back court of Sessions and Knight and keeping Henson off the boards?
Lowry not playing would be a huge blow for Toronto. The last time these two teams played, he scorched Brandon Knight every single time Knight turned his head to provide defensive help to a teammate. Lowry finished with 23 points on 8 shots.
Henson doesn’t play enough minutes, so keeping him off the boards probably isn’t that big of a deal. But you’re right about Sessions and Knight. Those two are the Bucks’ big scoring threats. The Raptors need to avoid putting Sessions at the free throw line, and they need to overplay Brandon Knight to drive to his preferred right-hand side.
Finally: following a NBA record tying 26-game losing streak, Philadelphia seems intent on losing their way to catch the Bucks for the bottom seed. In your opinion is there an art to tanking and will the Bucks maintain their current position, so they enter the draft with the best opportunity to snag the top pick?
My gut tells me it will end in a tie. After ending the record streak, I think the 76ers are done winning this season. The Bucks probably have a win or two left. If they do end up tied, the teams share the ping pong balls and have a coin flip to see who gets the better pick in the event that both of them miss out on the lottery’s top-three picks.
I don’t see tanking as being artful in any way. It’s not hard to be bad.
With the last two wins versus top seeds it makes sense to continue to sit Lowry and Johnson against the league’s lowest ranked team. Both are listed as questionable, but factoring in the Raptors won’t play until Wednesday the additional 5-days rest could be exactly what the doctor ordered. For Milwaukee the absence of Ilyasova (a Raptor killer), Wolters and likely Mayo provides additional credence to sit the two Raptor starters.
Back Court — Vasquez has shown glimpses of spectacular (Houston) and games with poor decision making coupled with poor defense, but in his past 5-games he’s averaging 12.4 points, 1.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists. DeRozan answered the critics without Lowry in the line-up garnering more assists, scoring at critical times and even taking Lowry-like charges.
Knight and Sessions have been lighting it up lately and as per KL’s response above will undoubtedly offer Toronto’s biggest challenge.
Advantage — Tie (if Lowry does suit up Raptors become overwhelming favorite)
Front Court — Friday night these teams faced the NBA’s top two defenses in the opening game of their back-to-backs. Middleton, Adrien and Pachulia produced 44 points and 24 rebounds against Chicago while Ross, Patterson and Valanciunas led the Raptors with 51 points and 21 rebounds against Indiana.
Raptor sophomores: Ross and Valanciunas have been growing in confidence with each win especially post All Star break, where the Raptors have a 66% winning percentage. Patterson returning as Johnson got injured seems to follow the plot of the Raptors’ fairy tale season. I find myself watching the on court communication between Patterson and Valanciunas and believe it contributes to Valanciunas improved positioning on both ends.
Advantage — Raptors dominate: expect more Raging Bull-like court stomping from our young center tonight.
Bench — Ironically, Toronto’s bench was abysmal with Patterson out, so you would anticipate the struggles to continue when he was inserted into the starting line-up, however the reverse actually occurred. If de Colo can produce an identical effort to Friday’s contest, this game could be over early. Expect Salmons, Hansbrough and Hayes as initial inserts but if the Raptors do their job early we could see a second half featuring Novak, Fields, Stone and Buycks.
The Bucks offer two young up-starts in Antekounmpo and Henson who can offer some exciting highlights. Friday night Larry Drew used just eight players.
Advantage — Raptors
- Toronto: 44-32 – offense- 10th, defense- 7th
- Milwaukee: 14-59 – offense- 26th, defense- 29th
- Leroy Richardson
- Steven Anderson
- Mike Callahan
- Raptors magic number to clinch Atlantic Division is 4 (assuming they win one of remaining division games versus New York x2 or Philly)
- Raptors need 4 victories to set franchise record: total regular season wins (48)
- Toronto is 7-3 in last 10 while Milwaukee is 1-9
Vegas Says: Raptors favored by 7, over/under: 197.5 with public favoring Raptors by 70%
Tamberlyn Says — The Raptors have shown their propensity to rise to the challenge, especially versus top seeded teams. Conversely, facing sub-500 teams the Raptors have flirted with disaster by playing down to the competition. I expect Casey’s pre-game chalk board to have two items written on it:
- Don’t take Milwaukee for granted ( Boston, Lakers, Kings)
- Be the master of your own destiny – win Atlantic Division and secure third seed
My gut says 20+ point blow-out but I’ll stick with a safe: Raptors by 12