NBA Playoffs: Raptors vs Bucks Preview
The Eastern conference’s playoff picture looks drastically different from one year ago. Although some things remain similar to last season, many things are different, and nothing is more of a surprise than the Milwaukee Bucks this season. The Bucks, who finished 12th last season, jumped up six placed to secure the number six seed this season. There weren’t a ton of additions to Milwaukee’s roster, but the internal development of existing players has helped them make giants strides in the right direction.
On the other hand, we have the Toronto Raptors, a squad making its fourth straight playoffs appearance. Although their regular season was not quite as impressive as the 56-win performance from last year, it could be argued that this year’s Toronto Raptors are even more dangerous in the playoffs. February trades for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker have turned the Raptors into a versatile, defensive juggernaut that still has the ability to outscore any opponent on a given night.
Giannis Antetokounmpo v Serge Ibaka: Although he is also used as a point forward for the Bucks, Giannis is Milwaukee’s starting power forward, and thus containing him will be the responsibility of Serge Ibaka. Serge is athletic and quick enough to keep up with Giannis on the perimeter, but he is also big enough to defend him in the paint. With the being said, Giannis is an extremely gifted ball handler for his size, and he has become a competent playmaker as well. Defensively, Giannis won’t be allowed to roam as much as usual as Ibaka is fully capable of punishing teams that leave him open from behind the arc, shooting 39% from the 3-point line this season.
Khris Middleton v DeMar DeRozan: Khris Middleton will have his hands full on the defensive end with DeMar DeRozan, but luckily Khris is one of the only guards in the entire league that can march DeRozan’s size advantage. On the other end, Khris will force DeRozan to be active on the defensive end, not allowing him to take plays off. This is going to impact DeRozan’s productivity on offense, and will likely lead to coach Dwayne Casey opting to put a defensive specialist on Middleton throughout the game. Since both of these guards play heavy minutes and are heavily featured in the offense, this should allow for some exciting back and forth between these two.
Malcolm Brogdon v Kyle Lowry: Kyle Lowry looks as though he hasn’t missed a beat since missing 21 games with a wrist injury. Since coming back Kyle has averaged 17 PTS, 8 AST and 2 STL. The Raptors will need everything they can get from him to matchup with Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon who is coming off of a very impressive rookie campaign. Defensively, Brogdon can cause a lot of trouble for the smaller Lowry, so if the all-star guards 3-point shot isn’t falling, he is going to have trouble scoring the ball. Luckily, Lowry can help his team in a lot of other ways when his shot isn’t falling.
2.8 – The Raptors were the league’s absolute best team in the fourth quarter during the regular season with a league-high +/- of 2.8. They were also the third highest scoring team in the fourth quarter, with the second highest field goal percentage and second highest 3-point percentage. If the Bucks hope to beat this team, they better jump on them early.
40.4 – The Bucks averaged 40.4 rebounds per game during the regular season, which was good for second last in the entire league and since the all-star break, they have been by far the worst rebounding team in the league. To the contrary, the Raptors have been the 8th best rebounding team in the NBA since trading for Serge Ibaka. If Milwaukee are going to stand a chance in this series, everyone in a Bucks uniform is going to have to crash the boards.
Who Will Win and Why
This should be a relatively easy series for the Raptors. With their combination of talent and experience, there really is no reason to think the Bucks will pose much of a threat in this series. Toronto has a massive advantage in backcourt play, and they have a number of different looks to throw at Giannis throughout the series. Furthermore, the Bucks inability to spread the floor is really going to hurt them in the postseason when teams can really zero in on your weaknesses. If the Raptors can shrink the floor and minimize the space available to Giannis inside, the Bucks are going to struggle mightily offensively. Expect Toronto’s all-star backcourt to lead the way offensively, while their frontcourt will look to anchor the team on the defensive end.
Prediction: Toronto in 5.