The six seed Milwaukee Bucks are back in the playoffs after a one-year hiatus in 2015-16. Let’s break down their first round opponent, the three seed Toronto Raptors, before Game 1 on Saturday.
Leading Scorer: DeMar DeRozan (27.3 points per game)
DeRozan has continued to grow as a scorer throughout his career. This season, he has perfected his midrange-free throw strategy; nearly 60 percent of his points are from the midrange area or the charity stripe. DeRozan is shooting a career-high 47 percent from the field, and while he isn’t much of a three-point shooter or a passer, his ability to simply put the ball in the basket makes him one of the most dangerous offensive players in the league.
The silver lining for the Bucks is DeRozan’s desire to get to the free throw line does not play as well in the postseason when the defense ramps up and referees keep their whistles in their pockets. DeRozan has struggled in his 31 career playoff games, shooting just 39 percent from the field and getting to line less frequently than he does in the regular season.
Best Playmaker: Kyle Lowry (22.6 points, 7.0 assists per game)
Lowry is the engine that makes the Raptors offense go. Toronto averages seven more points per possession with Lowry on the floor compared to when he takes a seat. According to NBA.com on/off court splits, Toronto has the second-best offense in the NBA when Lowry is on the floor. But when he steps off the court, Toronto drops to 16th in points per possession. In the postseason, expect the 31-year-old point guard to play as much as possible; Lowry averaged over 38 minutes per contest across 20 playoff games last year. Lowry missed some time this March, but he recently returned and looks every bit as good as he was before he went down with a wrist injury.
Biggest X-Factor: P.J. Tucker (6.0 points, 5.5 rebounds with Toronto)
Toronto acquired Tucker from the Suns at the deadline, and he has been a big part of the Raptors strong second half without Lowry. Tucker has kept the defense together since coming over from Phoenix. Toronto holds teams to a stifling 99.8 points per possession with Tucker on the floor, but that slips all the way to 108.7 points allowed per possession with Tucker on the bench. Tucker figures to spend much of the series matching up against Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Not only is Tucker a defensive stud, he is also hitting over 40 percent of his threes in a Raptors uniform. Milwaukee will certainly be hawking Lowry and DeRozan, but they cannot forget about kick-out three pointers to Tucker, which could ultimately swing the series.
The Raptors have two prolific scorers in Lowry and DeRozan, but with the trade deadline acquisitions of Tucker and Serge Ibaka, Toronto has transformed into a defensive beast. Since the All-Star break, Toronto ranks fourth in the NBA in points allowed per possession. Most of that data came without Lowry, who is a bulldog at the top of any defense. Now that he is back in the fold, Toronto can shut down any team outside of Golden State.
Matchup with Milwaukee
The Bucks finished 1-3 against the Raptors this season. Toronto is clearly not invincible, but they have the edge in a lot of categories the Bucks need to win. As he has done all season long, Antetokounmpo is going to have to put on his superhero cape for the Bucks to take this series.
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