This Eastern Conference matchup has the possibility of going down as one of the most boring first-round matchups in this year's playoffs. Full disclosure - I am a Raptors fan, but I will remain unbiased for this remainder of this article.
As of this very moment, the Raptors are tabbed at +1000 to win the Eastern Conference and +4000 to capture the franchises' first NBA Championship. Neither of those two things are going to happen, so please do not waste your money. The same can be said for the Bucks. While +5000 is tempting odds to win the Eastern Conference and +25000 is even better to win the whole thing, the chances of the Bucks getting hot and going on a deep postseason run are slim-to-none. All odds are courtesy of Bovada .
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The Raptors are coming off their third straight 50-win season, which is something to be proud of. They failed to capture their second-straight division title for two reasons. The first being the Boston Celtics hot run during the second half of the season. The second being the Raptors' inconsistent play without Kyle Lowry. There is no mistaking the facts here, the Raptors only go as far as DeMar DeRozan and Lowry can take them. When both have been healthy, they've been good this season. I would even go one step further and say DeRozan has been amazing so far this season. The problem I see with the Raptors is that they look very disinterested more often then not and fall behind by double-digits far too often. Twenty of their wins have come after trialing by double-digits at one point in the game.
The Bucks, on the other hand, are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2014/15, when they lost in six to the Chicago Bulls. The Bucks posted a winning record this season for the first time since the 2009/10 season, which ensured them the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks are led by all-star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has taken the NBA by storm over his first three years in the league. However, unlike his first two seasons, the Bucks have given him a few talented players to work with. Khris Middleton and Matthew Dellavedova were solid offseason acquisitions and that pushed the Bucks from terrible to playoff bound.
The Toronto Raptors' offense is an enigma. It can look unstoppable in one game and like a JV team the next. The Raptors average 107 points per game, which has them 10th in the NBA, just behind a terrible Phoenix Suns team. They struggle to hit the boards like an elite team, averaging just 43.2 rebounds per game, which puts them in 19th spot. The biggest downfall for the Raptors is the fact that they have absolutely no ball movement and struggle to find the open man. They rank dead-last in assist per game, averaging a measly 18.5. In the postseason, taking guys on one-on-one and running isolation plays on a consistent basis is a recipe for failure. The Raptors don't have a player that can single-handily win a playoff series for their team, although many Raptors fans (myself included) would like to believe DeRozan can be that guy. Individually, the Raptors boast four players that average in double-figures, led by DeRozan's 27.3 points per game, on 46.7 percent from the floor and 84.2 percent from the free throw line. Lowry averages 22.6 on 46.4 percent for the floor and 41.5 percent from beyond the arc, while Serge Ibaka chips in 15 points and Jonas Valanciunas scores 12.
The Bucks' offense ranks in the bottom third of the league, scoring just 103.7 points per game. They also rank next to last in rebounds, hauling in just 40.3 boards per game. The Bucks success is reliant upon their ability to move the basketball. They rank fifth in assists per game, averaging more than 24 dimes a night while also averaging 8.1 steals per game, which leads to 14 fast-break points per game. This could be the X-factor as the Raptors are not suited to defend a team that excels at getting out in transition either off of steals or missed shots. On an individual basis, the Bucks are led by Antetokounmpo's 22.9 points per game on 52 percent from the floor and 77 percent from the charity strip. The Greek Freak also averages 8.8 rebounds per game, 5.6 assists per game and 1.5 steals per game, which means he contributes in all facets of the game. After him, the Bucks have four players scoring in double-figures. Jabari Parker leads the way averaging 20 a night, while Middleton, Greg Monroe and Malcolm Brogdon average 14.7, 11.8 and 10.2, respectively.
This is where the series will be won or lost. The Raptors give up 102.9 points per game, while the Bucks are right behind them at 103.7. If I'm being honest, I am a tad shocked to see the Raptors in the top-10 of any major defensive category. I've watched numerous games where the defense is nowhere to be found and the blame is often passed off for someone else to deal with. DeMarre Carroll was supposed to come to town and be a shutdown defender, and I know he's been injured, but he hasn't lived up to his billing. On the inside, Valanciunas is a liability and the help game is very weak. In order for the Raptors to be successful this postseason they will need to limit their opponents second-chance opportunities and learn how to play better help defense.
The Raptors won the season series three games to one, but the Bucks played those games without Middleton in the lineup. His addition makes a huge difference, and it could very well be the spark that the Bucks need to sneak by the Raptors. Both teams can argue that they will have the best player in the series on their side, but I would choose Antetokounmpo over DeRozan. He's not only younger, but he contributes in more aspects of the game than DeRozan. DeRozan is a solid scorer. However, because he has to create his own shots, he can get shut down just as easily as he can go off for 30 points.
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