The Toronto Raptors head to the Bradley Center in Beer Town, hoping to somehow end a 9-game, multi-season losing streak to Milwaukee. I was at the ACC in January when the Bucks shrugged off a 20-point deficit and punched out the Raps by 11, truly a lowlight of this season for Your Scribe. The Raps’ last faint hope at a playoff run disappeared here in early March, in an overtime loss. Even though the Raps are playing for next season’s jobs and bragging rights over Philly (“We’re #9!”), one thinks there should be extra motivation to defeat this team.
The Bucks should have nailed down a playoff spot by now, but have hit a rough patch and are under .500. They have dropped their past 2 games, so should be in a snarly mood. The Raps have 2 straight wins, and can make it 3 if they:
- Hit their outside shots. The Raps’ backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan should be able to shoot over their smallish opposite numbers, Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings. Normally I push for more inside play, particularly now that Jonas Valanciunas is proving himself to be a highly efficient offensive weapon. However, the Bucks are a nasty squad to score against in the low post. Larry Sanders has exploded from obscurity to become one of the NBA’s top shot blockers, and Ersan Illyasova will defend all of our power forwards effectively, boxing out and using his quick hands to make steals. Speaking of steals….
- Protect the ball in the backcourt. Ellis leads the NBA in an unusual stat – most games this season (9) with at least 5 steals. The Bucks’ highest scorer is insanely quick, and will drive by you, or pick your pocket, in a heartbeat. Jennings will also gamble on steals, so the Raps, who are too often guilty of lazy passes, will need to be careful all night.
- Get solid play from the second unit. Milwaukee’s subs include veteran gunner Mike Dunleavy, 3-point bomber J.J. Redick, and a big, skinny promising rookie named John Henson. If our guys like Alan Anderson, Sebastian Telfair (who appears to have bumped John Lucas out of our rotation), and Terrence Ross don’t defend with vigor, the game might well be over before the starters return.