The Toronto Raptors have done it once already, chasing down a Milwaukee Bucks team that seemed to be sprinting to the NBA Finals.
Catching them in the standings this season seems unlikely, with the Bucks (49-8) on their way perhaps to one of the best records in league history.
But Toronto might get another shot in the postseason, and before then the Raptors will get three more chances to see how they measure up against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks.
The first comes Tuesday night in Toronto, where the Raptors had the most lopsided win in their franchise history two nights earlier.
The Bucks specialize in lopsided victories, beating teams by 12.4 points per game entering the week, on pace to post the largest average margin of victory in league history.
”Every game I watch them play it’s 32-12 at the end of one. Every single one. Or, 32-22 like, the closest,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said Sunday.
The Bucks were the NBA’s best team in the regular season in 2018-19, but the Raptors stormed back from a 2-0 deficit in the Eastern Conference finals to win four straight on the way to their first championship. But this season, Nurse said the Bucks are deeper, bigger and more experienced, so much better than their opponents that he said their games are boring.
”I watch them play and they win every game by 20 points,” Nurse said. ”I don’t know what to make of it, other than nobody can even come close to them.”
Milwaukee did play a rare close game Monday, needing overtime to edge Washington.
Milwaukee has been so good that Toronto has won 17 of its last 18 games after its 127-81 rout of Indiana and gained only one game in the standings while the Bucks went 16-2.
The teams are playing for the first time since the Bucks’ victory in early November. They will also play a home-and-home series to begin April, so Nurse won’t get too caught up in whatever happens Tuesday.
”They’ve really got it going so it’ll be a challenge but we’ll be OK. Either way it goes next game we’ll be fine,” Nurse said. ”Keep on keeping on until we get to where we’ve got to go.”
ZION VS. LEBRON
Zion Williamson was perhaps the most hyped player entering the NBA since LeBron James, and so far he’s done pretty well living up to the expectations.
Now he gets to see how he measures up against James himself.
The New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers meet twice this week, a matchup that could become a playoff preview thanks to the Pelicans’ surge once they got their No. 1 pick on the floor.
Williamson has played in 12 games after knee surgery delayed the start of his NBA career. He’s averaging 22.8 points and has scored 20 or more in eight in a row, including 28 in a win at Golden State on Sunday.
The powerful forward became the fourth teenager to score 30 points in consecutive games, a list that starts with James, the No. 1 pick in 2003.
”I used to watch him all the time, especially when he was in Cleveland the first time,” Williamson said. ”You know, he’s just an incredible player to watch. He’s always held his own and sometimes he doesn’t get the respect that he deserves, but that’s not for me to decide.”
James now stars for a Lakers team that is atop the Western Conference and has beaten the Pelicans twice this season, with matchups remaining Tuesday in Los Angeles and Sunday in New Orleans.
The Pelicans are still outside the playoff picture but are putting pressure on with eight wins in 11 games. So Williamson is looking forward to Tuesday, but not for any individual reasons.
”I’m looking at it from the perspective as we need every win because we’re trying to fight for that eighth seed in the playoffs,” he said.
OTHER GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEK
Oklahoma City at Chicago, Tuesday. Coby White has joined Michael Jordan as the only Bulls rookies with consecutive 30-point games.
Denver at Clippers, Friday. Two of the four teams in a tight race for the Nos. 2-5 spots in the Western Conference.
Houston at Boston, Saturday. The Celtics will hope to have Kemba Walker back by the time James Harden and Russell Westbrook come to town.
Washington at Golden State, Sunday. The night Stephen Curry has been targeting for his return from a hand injury.
Sunday is the last day a player on a roster can be waived and still be eligible to play for another team in the playoffs. A player could then sign with another club at any point before the end of the season as long as he is waived by March 1.
Already, the Clippers signed Reggie Jackson and the Lakers added Markieff Morris after they agreed to buyouts and were waived by Detroit.