The Raptors open up what could be a real game changing three game series with the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks and Raptors could be in a dog fight for the final playoff position this season. They meet today in Toronto and than in March and April in Milwaukee. The bad news for the Raptors is the Bucks have swept the season series for the last two seasons winning the last 7 contests between the two clubs. Historically the Bucks have been a tough team for the Raptors to beat. They are just 12-20 vs. Bucks in Toronto and an even worse 10-22 on the road.
This is a personal rivalry for DeMar DeRozan who is good friends with Brandon Jennings. While at times DeRozan has got the individual nod over Jennings he has just one team victory in ten tries in his NBA career. Ironically though, it is DeRozan with the more secure future in Toronto and Jennings likely exploring his options elsewhere in the off-season as things played out. Jennings did not get an extension from the Bucks and has more than hinted he would like to be elsewhere over the years.
While DeRozan is having perhaps the best year of his NBA career you can argue that Jennings has slipped back slightly or at least reached a plateau. Jennings is earning a reputation as volume shooter he is only slightly above his career field goal percentage of 39.5% entering play at the ACC with just a 40.9% from the field. DeRozan in contrast is better with a career 45.4% and slightly behind that with 43.9% this season but still better than Jennings. There scoring averages are as close as they have ever been in their careers with DeRozan averaging 17.8 a game and Jennings just slightly better at 18.5 per game.
The comparison is a valid one beyond their close relationship as they were selected back to back in the draft. The Raptors selecting DeRozan first at the ninth pick and Jennings going at ten to the Bucks in the 2009 NBA Drafted Jennings was able to reach the playoffs early in his career in 2010 while DeRozan continues to dream of that opportunity.
While things have calmed down surrounding the Raptors it has not been the case with the Bucks. Scott Skiles recently parted ways with the Bucks. It was said in some reports that Skiles hated his team. Keeping in mind the Bucks still hold a playoff spot in the East and a record above .500 at 18-17 currently in eighth and the final playoff spot after recently being passed by Boston. They still are some what comfortably ahead of both the Sixers and Raptors who are 3 and half and 4 and half games behind them in the standings.
The Raptors will look to make that 3 and half with a win in a matinee at the ACC. The Raptors are the hotter team despite the terrible history in the head to head of late. Winners of 10 of their last 13 games as the Bucks are just 4-6 and come in off a loss to Detroit.
It seems with the coaching change the Bucks are much in a mode like Dwane Casey was in earlier in the season looking for answers. They dressed 13 players against Detroit and played them all. Beyond Jennings the Bucks have Monta Ellis, Larry Sanders, Ilyasova and others. But much like Toronto they really lack that consistent star to perform night in and night out.
It is a team that under Skiles at least was focused on defense not unlike the Raptors under Casey. They really do have a lot of similar type traits. But ultimately the Bucks despite all of that have consistently found a way to beat the Raptors.
Still, history in the last match-up was not on the Raptors side against the Bobcats either. A win over the Bucks would be a significant step towards playoff contention and shift the pressure on the Bucks to sweep the two remaining games on their home floor in March and April. Who is to say what either of these squads look like at that point.
The Raptors and how they manage trade deadline could go a long way to determining how capable they will be to make the post-season. The Bucks might consider moving Jennings if they truly feel he will want out in the off-season. It is not like that has not been done elsewhere.
In any case that is the future for both these sides. The present will be very important down the line as these two clubs are expected to be in battle down the stretch for a final invite to the playoffs. Funny when we entered this season that is about what I said the Raptors would be doing. I guess they really have started to put the awful start to the season behind them. If they want to keep climbing in the right direction they need to break a streak of domination by the Bucks and win two out of three games starting with this one at the ACC. They fail to do so and it seems unlikely the Raptors could win twice in Milwaukee. It could come down to that when deciding who gets an invite to the playoffs and who is a spectator.