Make no mistake, Toronto has been on a roll since the Rudy Gay trade, but they haven’t been in a game like this one vs the Bucks. The Raptors couldn’t take any of their opponents over the past 17 games lightly as they have faced as tough a schedule as the NBA could have arranged for them. At 7-29 and losers of 13 of their past 15 games, Milwaukee is the softest touch Toronto has seen this season and for a team that has only just become accustomed to winning, this game has trap written all over it.
The Raptors defeated the Bucks early in the season 97-90 as Gay had 18 points and 15 rebounds on 4-14 shooting to lead all scorers. Toronto overcoming a sub-40 percent shooting night by grabbing 60 rebounds, but Gay is gone and the Raptors style of play has completely changed.
Milwaukee has suffered through their share of injuries. Point guards Brandon Knight and Luke Ridnour were injured at the same time early in the season. Forward Carlos Delfino hasn’t played a game yet this year. Center Zaza Pachulia broke his foot in December and power forward John Henson is expected to miss a few games with a high ankle sprain. Between the losing and the injuries, new Head Coach Larry Drew has started playing his rookies, the 19-year-old forward Giannis Antetokounmpo from Greece, the 7’ Serbian center Miroslav Raduljica and second round pick Nate Wolters.
Antetokounmpo had a double-double against the Thunder in his last game and has been moving up on the various Rookie Watch lists. Raduljica has been getting inconsistent minutes, but is showing promise. The 26-year-old has a big body and averaged 9.5 points and 4 rebounds in his last 2 games.
The Bucks are led by Brandon Knight at 15 points per game and O.J. Mayo with 13.6 points. Their other rookie, Wolters, was impressive at point guard when both Knight and Ridnour were injured, but his minutes have dropped off dramatically since mid-November.
In a season Coach Drew would probably like to forget, the Bucks are 29th in scoring at 91.6 points per game while giving up an even 100. They are at or near the bottom of the league in field goal percentage, free throw attempts, rebounds and assists.
The Raptors have been moving dramatically in the other direction after a 6-12 start with Gay and are on a 12-5 run with his replacements from the Sacramento Kings. The addition of Greivis Vasquez, John Salmons, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes to the Raptors’ roster came with instant chemistry and an element of toughness not usually associated with Toronto.
Toronto is playing the tough-minded defensive style that Coach Casey has been preaching since he arrived in 2011. The Raptors are scoring a respectable 98.7 points per game and holding teams to an NBA third best 96.5 points.
DeMar DeRozan has adjusted to the post-Gay era and leads the team with 21.3 points per game. In January, DeRozan has averaged 24.2 points and Casey is pushing his colleagues to recognize his young star with an All-Star nod.
If the Raptors can avoid looking past their opponent and merely play at the same level they have for the past month, the Bucks haven’t got a chance. However, as Casey keeps reminding his players, they haven’t earned the right to take any opponent lightly.
Milwaukee is not going to lose the rest of their games this season. The trap is to believe the Bucks will let the Raptors win and that just doesn’t happen very often at this level.