The 18-12 Toronto Raptors will travel to Milwaukee with a strong mixture of good and bad news. The bad news is even at 18-12 the Raptors are still only in the playoffs by a slim two games. The good news is they sit 4th in the conference and are only 2.5 games behind top spot (currently occupied by Cleveland).
Furthermore tonight’s match up with the Milwaukee Bucks sees four key players listed as questionable, those players are: Jonas Valanciunas, DeMarre Carroll, Patrick Patterson and James Johnson. Valanciunas and Carroll are both regular starters and have been out long term while Patterson (flu) and Johnson (ankle) were only recently put on the casualty list.
Meanwhile, the Bucks are coming off a 13 point win over Philadelphia and are looking for a three game win streak to help revitalize a season of incredibly mixed fortunes – they sit 13th in the conference. They did have a signature win over the Golden State Warriors and have proven capable of rising to the challenge.
The teams have already met twice this season and both times the Raptors were victorious, with a 19 point away win early in the season and then a 7 point home win earlier this month. Toronto will not run into to former player Greivis Vasquez as recent ankle surgery has ruled him out for about 3 months, Milwaukee will be led by interim coach Joe Prunty as Jason Kidd has undergone hip surgery. The Raptors have taken 8 of the past 9 games between the two sides including the past 3 on the road.
Cage’s Keys to the Game
The Bucks have only lost 5 times this season when managing to score at least 100 points. They generally are a low scoring team and the Raptors were able to win last time out when putting in just 90 for the game. If the last two games against them are anything to go by another, strong effort on defense should be enough to overcome the inconsistent Bucks.
Take advantage on the glass
The past five games have seen Bismack Biyombo average 15.8 rebounds while Milwaukee has a -4.5 rebound margin across the season and ranks as one of the NBA’s worst in this department. These kind of statistics point to another big night on the boards which can translate to second chance points on offence and of course cement key stops on D. Regardless of a Valanciunas return, the Raptors have an advantage in this part of the match up so taking advantage is key.
Back court dominance
Guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are each looking for a home All-Star appearance and recent numbers will hopefully sway more voters. Lowry is putting in elite numbers as he averages 20.6 points a game with some high percentage shooting. He sits 3rd in all-star voting for East guards, by the way. DeMar DeRozan is flying high after a 28 point performance against the Mavs – he’s now averaging 27.1 per game in his last eight and is third in the east for points per game overall this season. He sits at 7th in voting for East guards.
Raptors X-Factor: Bismack Biyombo
If not tonight, then some time soon we will see the return of starter Jonas Valanciunas. These past weeks have seen Biyombo fill the hole JV has left admirably. Tonight he comes up against a weak rebounding team while he himself is in career best form. Rebounding,as mentioned earlier, is statistically in the Raptors’ favour tonight and Biyomobo is a big reason why. Even more so Biyombo has 2.6 blocks per game across the last five so there is no doubt another strong performance from the big man can give Raptors fans a late Christmas gift. If this does prove to be his last game as a starter lets hope he can make it one to remember.