The Raptors have won six games in a row and continue to prove their worth as the number one team in the Eastern Conference. They are atop the standings with a record of 41-16. Just prior to the All-Star break, they defeated the Heat 115-112. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry were catalysts for the victory, combining for 49 points and 12 assists.
On Friday, they will host another Eastern Conference side trying to force their way to the top of the standings in the Bucks. Milwaukee are in sixth place with a record of 32-25, just 2.5 games behind third and 2.5 games ahead of eighth. They went into the All-Star break with a disappointing 123-134 loss to the Nuggets. Giannis Antetokounmpo had a 36-point triple-double, but it wasn’t enough to stop a Denver team led by a 30-point, 15-rebound, 17-assist effort from Nikola Jokic.
Three keys to the game
Are the Raptors the best home team in the league? - Their record suggests the answer to this question is yes. Toronto are an extraordinary 24-4 in Canada this season, and have won their past seven home games. Their net rating of 11.6 is behind only Golden State (11.9), and is almost three points ahead of the third best home team, the Rockets.
Can the Bucks limit their turnovers? - They will need to against a Raptors team which scores 18.3 points off turnovers per game, the second highest total in the league. The Bucks have been good in this department this season. They turn it over on just 14% of possessions, the ninth lowest percentage in the league, and concede the seventh least amount of points from these turnovers.
The Prunty effect - Since Joe Prunty took over from Jason Kidd as head coach of the Bucks, the team has played arguably its best ball for the season. They are 9-3 in 12 games with Prunty at the helm, and the major reason for this has been their defense. For the season they concede 106 points per 100 possessions, but with their new head coach this number is at 100.4.
Matchup to watch
Eric Bledsoe vs Kyle Lowry - This is a like-for-like battle at point guard if ever there has been one. Lowry comes in at 6’0” and 204 pounds, while Bledsoe is 6’1” and 204 pounds. Both use their solid frames to play roles as aggressive, physical point guards, and both average around 16 points this season. Lowry is a much better 3-point shooter, and his 6.5 assists far outweigh Bledsoe’s 4.6, which he has averaged since joining the Bucks early in the season. But Bledsoe’s 2.2 steals a night is one of the best numbers in the league. Both will defend hard, making this an entertaining battle to watch.
Toronto Raptors predicted starting lineup
PG - Kyle Lowry | SG - DeMar DeRozan | SF - OG Anunoby | PF - Serge Ibaka | C - Jonas Valanciunas
Milwaukee Bucks predicted starting lineup
PG - Eric Bledsoe | SG - Tony Snell | SF - Khris Middleton | PF - Giannis Antetokounmpo | C - Thon Maker
The first time these two sides met this season, DeRozan broke a franchise record by netting 52 points. He shot 17-of-29 from the field, 5-of-9 from deep, and also added five rebounds, eight assists, a steal and a block. His second game against them yielded an efficient 20 points, five boards, four dimes, two steals and a block.
In 17 career games against the Raptors, Antetokounmpo averages 14.9 points on 53% shooting, 6.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists and a steal per game.
The Bucks have been given an 8.5-point head start against Toronto, and as good as the Raptors are at home, this line is too high. Milwaukee are playing terrific basketball and will put up a good fight in this game. They may not be able to win, but they will do enough to cover the spread.
This should be a highly entertaining game between two sides playing excellent basketball. DeRozan will score 30-plus points in the absence of a suitable matchup for him. Though Snell certainly has the length, he is inexperienced and will not be able to stop the All-Star.
Giannis will, of course, be key to the Bucks' hopes, and if he puts in a monster game they will go close to winning. Ultimately though, the Raptors will be too strong playing on a home court on which they rarely lose, and will run out 116-109 winners.
The game will be broadcast locally on TSN and Fox Sports Wisconsin. Tip-off is at 7:30pm ET.