After a hugely disappointing loss to the Chicago Bulls last night on what was otherwise a very solid home stand, the Toronto Raptors will hit the road and take on the Milwaukee Bucks on the end of a back to back tonight. The Raptors (44-21) will likely be somewhat mentally shook after being swept by a Bulls team that could very well be a playoff opponent. The Raptors will have to put it behind them and focus on the Bucks (29-38), who have actually been playing some pretty good basketball as of late.
Jonas Valanciunas suffered a left hand contusion last night, and is questionable for tonight’s tilt.
Let’s get right into the Cage’s Keys to the Game
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker both present match-up nightmares. For a team that is still missing its best perimeter defender in DeMarre Carroll, it will be critical for guys such as James Johnson to rise to the challenge. DeMar DeRozan will also need to be much better defensively. I can appreciate that he has been carrying a heavy offensive load, however there simply has to be a better balance defensively all around.
Which non All-star will come to play?
It does seem as though Kyle Lowry and DeRozan have carried a bigger load than usual offensively as of late. While it’s expected of your two best players to be the dominant force offensively, it simply can’t be to the extent that we have been seeing. Especially if JV can’t go, Terrence Ross and Patrick Patterson need to step up. I also liked what Jason Thompson brought last night in limited minutes – look for him to get an extended run, and potentially even the start without Valanciunas.
This is definitely going to be vital. On the stretch of a back to back, the depleted Raps will go against a team that is pretty darn good offensively at home. It will take a valiant defensive effort to pull this one off. 538 gives the Raptors a 51% chance of winning this one, so do not expect a cakewalk just because of the Bucks’ record.
X-Factor: James Johnson
The ‘Greek Freak’ has been going off lately, and it will likely be JJ’s task to slow him down. When Johnson is into the game we have seen him dig into guys and play spectacular defense. With that said, there are times where he’s just atrocious on both ends. If we see the good James Johnson tonight, it will be a huge difference maker for the Raptors.