What to Watch For: Bucks (7-5)
The Bucks are 7-5. They’ve won three games in a row. They’re over .500 for the first time since March 2013. Jabari Parker scored a career-high 23 points Wednesday night. Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo became the first teenage teammates in NBA history to score 14 or more points in the same game. They’re fresh off a triple-overtime thriller against the (new rival?) Brooklyn Nets. Their coaching staff is empowering Antetokounmpo to isolate and drive, and he’s rewarding them with jaw-dropping plays and a steep increase in scoring efficiency from last season (53.3 vs. 41.4 field goal percentage; 58.2 vs. 51.8 true shooting percentage). They have the fourth-best defensive rating in the NBA. Their veterans are actually content in supplementary roles. Their oldest player in the starting lineup is Larry Sanders, who is 26.
Many positive things are brewing in Milwaukee. But looming in the horizon is Milwaukee’s December schedule. Here’s the December itinerary: Cavs, Mavericks, Heat, Thunder, Clippers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Kings, Clippers again, Hornets, Hawks, Hawks again, Hornets again and Cavs again.
So, every opponent the Bucks play in December either qualified for the playoffs last season or currently holds a playoff seed (Sacramento is tied record-wise for the eighth seed).
It would be wise to enjoy the sudden Renaissance while it lasts.
What to Watch For: Raptors (9-2)
Toronto currently holds the best record in the Eastern Conference at 9-2. Its only two losses are against Chicago and Miami. But much like the Bucks, they’ve mostly played lackluster offensive teams — the Hawks, Magic, Thunder, Celtics, 76ers, Jazz, and the like. According to Basketball-Reference’s metric, the Raptors have the second-lowest strength of schedule so far this season. Only the Bucks have faced an easier docket.
Regardless of its schedule, Toronto appears to be a legitimate threat in the East. It ranks second in offensive rating (112.4) and sixth in defensive rating (102.7). The Raptors’ recipe for success has been pretty simple thus far: take care of the ball, force turnovers and get to the free throw line. They rank second in turnover percentage, second in free throw rate and third in opponent turnover percentage. Despite a bulky starting frontcourt of Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson, Toronto is perhaps most susceptible on the glass. It ranks 27th in defensive rebounding percentage and 19th in offensive rebounding percentage.
Individually, five players are posting borderline all-star PERs: Kyle Lowry (22.8), James Johnson (20.9), DeMar DeRozan (20.4), Amir Johnson (19.6) and Valanciunas (19.1). Yet, the Raptors still lack a bona fide star. Lowry and DeRozan pace the team in scoring — combining for 39.5 points per game — but neither are consistent long-range shooters. And the latter, who averages 17.2 shots per game, is hardly a beacon of scoring efficiency. Patrick Patterson, Terrence Ross and Amir Johnson provide some relief for spacing, but it will be interesting to see whether Toronto’s patchwork team — however impressive and inspiring — can sustain its success against serious competition.
Also, according to the team’s media notes, tonight’s game concludes a franchise-record seven-game, two-week homestand for the Raptors.
(All data from basketball-reference.com.)
Time – 6:30 p.m. CST TV – FS-Wisconsin Radio – 620 WTMJ
Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo (ankle; game-time decision); Damien Inglis (post-surgery — right ankle; out); Johnny O’Bryant (right knee sprain; out)
Raptors: James Johnson (sprained right ankle; out)
Bucks: Brandon Knight – Khris Middleton – Jabari Parker – Giannis Antetokounmpo – Larry Sanders
Raptors: Kyle Lowry – DeMar DeRozan – Terrence Ross – Amir Johnson – Jonas Valanciunas
Choose the Form of the Destructor: Tyler Hansbrough
Tyler Hansbrough likes to hustle, prod, provoke and generally cause chaos on the basketball court, to the ire of many NBA basketball players. One of the more underrated rivalries in the NBA is between Hansbrough and former Bucks forward Mike Dunleavy Jr., who were teammates in Indiana. Relive some of those moments here:
Maybe it has something to do with this: