The NBA champion Toronto Raptors hope to continue their strong start to the season Saturday night when they visit the team they defeated in the Eastern Conference finals last season, the Milwaukee Bucks.
While the Raptors have won four of their first five games, the Bucks have been less impressive. Milwaukee is 3-2 after defeating the Magic 123-91 Friday night at Orlando.
The Bucks, who had the NBA’s best record last season at 60-22, anticipated a fast start this season. Last season, they surged to a 7-0 start.
“We’re definitely learning on the fly right now,” Bucks center Brook Lopez said. “It’s a lot of good things to learn from and, again, there’s no concern or anything like that. We’re still confident in who we are, we know what we need to do, and we’re going to keep learning from this and keep improving.”
The Bucks won the regular-season series 3-1 against the Raptors last season and took the opening two games of the Eastern Conference final. The Raptors won the next four games to take the series en route to their first NBA championship.
“Even when we were down 2-0, I felt really good about the series,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse recalled on Friday. “That sounds silly, but again, I thought we really outplayed them in Game 1, like severely outplayed them, so I just hoped that we could put four of them together like Game 1, and we were fortunate enough to do it.”
Both teams have lost key players from last season as free agents. Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green left Toronto, and Malcolm Brogdon exited Milwaukee.
“We have to see how they’ve evolved, how they are playing now,” Raptors forward Pascal Siakam said Friday. “But it’s always a fun matchup playing against a guy as talented as Giannis (Antetokounmpo) and their team. It’s a fun matchup and exciting every time against good competition.”
Siakam has become the focal point of the Raptors with Leonard’s departure. He has scored at least 30 points three times this season.
He also will be the primary defender against Antetokounmpo, who scored 29 points and grabbed 14 rebounds against the Magic. Eric Bledsoe added 18 points on Friday.
“(Siakam is) going to be matched up against Giannis,” Nurse said. “We’re going to give (the assignment) to him. He’s way too young to be doing too much (relaxing on defense), in my opinion. I think he can play defense and he can score 25 to 30 a night.”
Siakam will get some help on his assignment at times from teammates such as OG Anunoby and Serge Ibaka.
There has been a disturbing early trend to the Bucks’ season. They squandered a 21-point lead in an overtime loss to the Miami Heat on Oct. 26, and on Wednesday they wasted a 19-point advantage before losing 116-105 to the Boston Celtics.
“As it’s going on, you just have to stay composed,” said Bucks forward Khris Middleton, who scored 16 points on Friday. “Figure it out. Looking back on it now, we just have to be better in the second half. We’ve shown two times that we can build up a great lead, and now we have to figure out how to keep it like we have in the past. I think it’s something we can fix.”
–Field Level Media