What to Watch For: Bucks (25-22)
Saturday’s convincing win over a very good, albeit rather beat up, Portland team gave Milwaukee its third three-game winning streak of the year. That’s where the previous two ended, however, both in blowout fashion. The Raptors played spoiler on one of those occasions, handing Milwaukee its worst loss of the season back on Nov. 21. The Bucks were coming off wins over Miami, New York and Brooklyn (3 OT) but came out flat, allowing 71 first-half points to trail by 26 at the break. Toronto continued to pour it on in the third quarter, outscoring Milwaukee 30-12 behind a big night from Lou “Two Chicks” Williams, who led all scorers with 22 points off the bench.
While it’s difficult to draw any definitive conclusions from such a one-sided affair, rebounding was Milwaukee’s most glaring weakness. Yes, the Raptors shot the lights out and hit 15 threes, but sometimes that sort of thing just happens in the NBA. What’s less random is getting out-rebounded 57-30 and allowing 15 offensive boards. Of course, the Bucks shooting 37 percent from the floor was a contributing factor to the defensive rebounding gap, but Toronto is not a great rebounding team. The Raptors rank 21st in rebounds per game and hold just a plus-0.2 differential on the season.
With Jonas Valanciunas banged up and questionable to play Monday night, the Bucks might catch a break. Regardless, if Zaza Pachulia is held out for a third straight game, which seems very likely, John Henson and Giannis Antetokounmpo will shoulder much of the rebounding load for Milwaukee. The pair combined for 18 boards against Portland on Saturday, a team that ranks fourth in the league in rebounds per game.
What to Watch For: Raptors (33-15)
When these teams first met, the Raptors were 10-2 and looking like maybe the best team in the East. They’ve cooled off a bit since then but enter Monday having won seven of their last eight – including a 92-89 win over Milwaukee on Jan. 1 – after a pair of overtime wins over the weekend. The recent hot stretch can be credited to Toronto’s offense, which is averaging better than 120 points over the last three games and 112.5 points over the last six.
That’s not to say the Raptors are a bad defensive team, but they haven’t exactly defended at the level one would expect from a team sitting 18 games above .500. Toronto allows the third-most points (101.4) of any team in the East, ahead of only Boston and Orlando, which have won a combined 31 games.
Time – 6:30 PM CST TV – Fox Sports Wisconsin Radio – 620 WTMJ
Bucks: Larry Sanders (personal reasons; out); Kendall Marshall (ACL tear; out for season); Damien Inglis (post surgery – right ankle; out for season); Jabari Parker (ACL tear; out for season); Ersan Ilyasova (sore groin; questionable); Zaza Pachulia (calf; out)
Raptors: James Johnson (hamstring; questionable); Jonas Valanciunas (ankle; questionable)
Choose the form of the Destructor: DeMar DeRozan
I realize nearly every one of my destructor picks this season has been downright terrible, but, alas, here we are.
DeRozan is probably my favorite NBA player since Latrell Sprewell retired (not a joke), so he’s the obvious choice here. After returning in mid-January from an extended injury absence, he initially looked like he had plenty of rust to shake off, but he appears to have settled in and is averaging 20.4 points, 5.6 assists and 6.2 rebounds over his last five. In the first two matchups with Milwaukee, DeRozan put up a total of seven points on 1-of-17 shooting, so conventional wisdom says he’s due for a breakout game.
But does conventional wisdom trump whatever kind of sorcery is at play with my destructor picks? We shall see.