I’ve made the drive from Milwaukee to Toronto before, and I’ve gotta say, NBA teams are pretty clever to do this whole “flying” thing. As glorious as it sounds, a friend once told me that you could see the curvature of the earth when you were in a plane and based on that comment alone, I’ve never flown. I’m a sensible person who believes the earth is flat, and I simply won’t entertain any ideas that posit that the world is round. Ridiculous. You expect me to trust tectonic plates? Anyone who moves 2.5 centimetres a year is clearly playing the long game, and I won’t be duped.
Tonight’s game has huge implications for Nick Nurse, the Raptors and the Bucks. Outside of the obvious impact this game will have on seeding in the Eastern Conference, Nurse and Mike Budenholzer are both in the running to coach the Eastern Conference All-Star squad. With both coaches in their first year with their respective squads, this would be a nice validation of the work they’ve put in, especially for Budenholzer, who has really transformed the Bucks.
Two of the league’s top teams, each with a player who has a claim to top-3 status at their best, and coaches who are looking to beef up their resume. Very intriguing. Andrew Goodman, a Bucks writer and friend, has been kind enough to come and do his 3rd preview of the season with me. Before we get into that, make sure to inform your betting strategies by checking this out before tonight.
Samson Folk: Both of us initially thought that the Raptors would be walking away with the first seed in the East this year… has your stance changed? The Bucks tertiary options have been outstanding this year, do they have the legs to finish on top in the East?
Andrew Goodman: It’s really going to come down to the wire between these two. The Raptors and the Bucks will both have home-court advantage in the opening round which is a big deal. Watching both of these teams run through the NBA throughout the season has been a treat. This game does have big implications, however. A Bucks win would give them the edge for the season series, but a Raptors win would tie the series. Of course it comes down to the last matchup.
Folk: Khris Middleton remains a very high-quality wing defender and floor-spacer at the worst of times. With that being said, has this year been a bit of a disappointment from him? Personally, I thought he might ascend to a shoe-in All-Star this year, but he’s in All-Star limbo right now. Do you think he’ll get selected this year, and what’s stopping him from taking that next – and likely final – step in his career?
Goodman: This has certainly not been a disappointing year for Middleton. I’m not sure why some Bucks fans think he’s “just some guy.” His averages of 17.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 4.1 assists are above his career average. While he did average 20 points per game last season, his scoring is down in large part due to adjusting to coach Budenholzer’s system. Even with the “struggles” he’s still making 37% of his three-pointers. I believe he’ll get his first-career all-star nod. Not that Giannis Antetokounmpo being Team Captain has anything to do with it :). Jokes aside, he’s been an extremely valuable piece to the Bucks and the chemistry he’s created with Giannis is irreplaceable.
Folk: Anthony Davis is available. Both the Raptors and the Bucks would love to have him (any team would) and have decent assets to trade. Neither team has a bevy of options like the Celtics, but there’s young, established upside players on each roster. If you’re the Pelicans, who do you need from the Raptors or Bucks, to make you trade ‘AD’?
Goodman: The Bucks have no assets to get him, unless you want to trade Giannis which is definitely not an option. While the Raptors do have Pascal to dangle at the Pelicans, I don’t think that’s enough. I don’t think they’d want an aging Kyle Lowry either.
Folk: Oddly enough, the game the Bucks lost was Giannis’ highest outburst in the scoring department. Do the Bucks beat the Raptors by “Death by Giannis Dunks” or something closer to their earlier wins, a bludgeoning from Bledsoe, Brogdon and the like?
Goodman: Even though Giannis erupted in Toronto’s last win over Milwaukee, the Bucks didn’t get much else from anyone. They were in that game in the second half largely because of Giannis and Giannis only. It’s hard to win a game 1 vs. 5. If the Bucks win it will be because of a balanced effort, like you mentioned. The Bucks are nearly unbeatable when each of their starters score at least 12 points.
Folk: Last but not least, Serge Ibaka has poured in 22, 30, and 25 points in the games against the Bucks. Is this something you’re very cognizant of when you’re watching the game? Does he read as a player who’s killing the Bucks each time out, or is he collecting his stats? Because of his proficiency against the Bucks this year, do you think: “Damn, don’t know how we’ll contain Ibaka.”?
Goodman: Ugh, Serge has killed the Bucks for years now, and with his style of play he will continue to do so whenever these teams play. The Bucks encourage their opponents to take mid range jumpers which is a forte of Ibaka’s. He will be open a lot on Thursday, for sure. Not only does he feast offensively, he’s also shutdown Giannis multiple times. Serge’s wide frame and long reach allows him to successfully defend most Bucks. He’s a monster versus Milwaukee, even when he was on OKC.
Folk: Thanks for doing this, mate. Hopefully we’ll get to do a few more of these in the postseason. Cheers.
Goodman: See you in the Eastern Conference finals!!!
TV: TSN | Radio: TheFan590 | Tipoff: 8pm EST
Jonas Valanciunas engaged in a practice recently and will likely be back within a week or two.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, Jordan Loyd
SG: Danny Green, Norman Powell, CJ Miles, Malachi Richardson
SF: Kawhi Leonard, OG Anunoby, Patrick McCaw
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Serge Ibaka, Greg Monroe, Chris Boucher
Malcolm Brogdon (sternal contusion) is probable, Donte DiVincenzo (heel) is unlikely to play.
PG: Eric Bledsoe, George Hill
SG: Malcolm Brogdon, Pat Connaughton
SF: Khris Middleton, Tony Snell
PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo, DJ Wilson, Ersan Ilyasova
C: Brook Lopez, Christian Wood, Thon Maker
This game should be really, really fun.
Have a blessed day.