Gameday: Raptors vs Bucks, March 19

The Raptors will face about the toughest regular-season game you could imagine.

The Toronto Raptors’ first three-game winning streak of the season didn’t come until early 2023, when they beat a murderer’s row of the Portland Trail Blazers, Charlotte Hornets, and Charlotte Hornets. In February, Toronto topped the Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, and San Antonio Spurs. Shortly thereafter, a four-game winning streak against the Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, New Orleans Pelicans, and Pistons again. For those keeping track at home, of 10 wins across those three three-or-more game winning streaks, six came against the absolute worst four teams in the league.

It is a very different feat now that the Raptors have another three-game winning streak in the books, this time against the Denver Nuggets, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Minnesota Timberwolves. Those are three good teams, all within the playoff race in the West (with the Nuggets of course in first place). Sure, not everyone is healthy among Toronto’s opponents. But it’s still an enormous wining streak on demand for a Raptors team that either put up or shut up. They decidedly put up.

The test now becomes enormously more difficult. Toronto is proud of its three-game winning streak? The Raptors face the 50-20 Milwaukee Bucks in Milwaukee, the best team in the league, and recently coming off of a 16-game winning streak. (You can read all about that achievement, by yours truly, on the Bucks’ own website). Just as a point of comparison, on that streak they beat the Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers (twice), Boston Celtics, and Phoenix Suns. Milwaukee is another class of team entirely from the Raptors so far this season.

And yet the Raptors have been closing the gap since the trade deadline. Toronto’s defensive rating is up to 11th since Feb. 9, and it’s been solving problems far more often and more easily than it was without Jakob Poeltl in the lineup. The rotations are making sense — meaning Toronto can win every quarter now, rather than simply the first and third. Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam are both playing at their best at the same time as one another. (Finally.) O.G. Anunoby is playing like a star on both ends. (And every game has been a dunk contest performance from him recently.)

But Milwaukee is another beast entirely. It’s well-rested, coming off a loss to the Indiana Pacers that saw one of the best defenses in basketball give up an embarrassing 139 points. The Bucks will be motivated, and the Raptors will be tired. This is about as hard a test as the regular season can offer.

This game also has real implications. Toronto is currently in ninth in the East, meaning if it wins both of its play-in games, it will earn the pleasure of facing the Bucks in the first round. Toronto is 0-2 against the Bucks this year, with some weirdo vibes in both games. (Especially the first one.) Winning at least one regular-season game against a possible playoff foe is a big deal for confidence.

Game Info

Tip-Off: 8pm EDT | TV: SN1 | Radio: SN590

Bucks Lineup

Jae Crowder (calf) and Goran Dragic (knee) are out. Brook Lopez (ankle) and Grayson Allen (foot) are probable.

PG: Jrue Holiday, Jevon Carter

SG: Grayson Allen, Pat Connaughton, Wesley Matthews

SF: Khris Middleton, Joe Ingles, MarJon Beauchamp

PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Thanasis Antetokounmpo

C: Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis, Meyers Leonard

Raptors Lineup

Dalano Banton (thumb) and Otto Porter jr. (foot) are out.

PG: Fred VanVleet, Will Barton, Malachi Flynn

SG: Scottie Barnes, Gary Trent Jr.

SF: O.G. Anunoby, Joe Wieskamp

PF: Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher, Precious Achiuwa, Thaddeus Young

C: Jakob Poeltl, Christian Koloko

The Line

Raps are getting a boatload of points (+9.5). The over-under is 233.5. That’s so many points for two defensive teams. The new NBA is crazy.

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