Raptors look for 1st win vs. Giannis-less Bucks in 1-2 battle

NBA Basketball

The Raptors beat the Milwaukee Bucks four times in the span of seven days in the Eastern Conference finals last season — a season that ended with an NBA championship for Toronto.

The Raptors, however, have yet to beat the Bucks in two meetings this season. They will try to correct that Monday night when the teams with the two best records in the East meet up for the last time in the regular season, inside the NBA bubble near Orlando.

The task could be easier with Giannis Antetokounmpo out. He was listed as questionable due to an achy tooth but had oral surgery and was scratched on Monday afternoon.

The Bucks (55-15) have clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for the second season in a row despite a 136-132 overtime loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday.

The Raptors (50-19) lost Friday for the first time since the season restart, a 122-100 setback to the Boston Celtics, but they rebounded Sunday afternoon with a 108-99 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies to clinch the No. 2 seed in the conference.

In the two previous meetings between the teams this season, the Bucks won at home 115-105 on Nov. 2 and at Toronto 108-97 on Feb. 25.

The games against the Mavericks and against the Raptors should help the Bucks in their playoff preparations. They have struggled at times since the restart and are 2-3 in the bubble, although they asserted themselves in a 130-116 win over the Miami Heat on Thursday.

“We’re getting there,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton told reporters after that game. “But at the same time our focus isn’t being the same team we were. … It’s all about being better. Being sharper. Being smarter. That’s what we have to be in order to get to where we want to get.”

Their Bucks’ final two games before the playoffs will be against two struggling teams — the Washington Wizards on Tuesday and the Grizzlies on Thursday.

“I think we feel like we’re ready for the playoffs,” said Bucks center Brook Lopez, who scored 34 points against the Mavericks. “It’s not really in our DNA as a team to go out there and just walk through these next three games. We’re going to go out there and do our best, compete. Keep learning. And take it a game at a time. Obviously, it’s not quite playoff time yet.”

The Bucks met a formidable opponent in Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, who had 36 points, 19 assists and 14 rebounds.

Antetokounmpo had 34 points and 13 rebounds for Milwaukee in the loss.

The Raptors are 4-1 since the restart and, thanks to the win Sunday, the Raptors reached 50 victories for the fifth straight season.

Pascal Siakam had 26 points Sunday, with Norman Powell adding 16 and Kyle Lowry 15.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse did not think that there was any message in the loss to the Celtics, who could be a playoff opponent.

“The only thing I probably did learn is we’ve got to get a couple of our guys playing a little better,” Nurse said after the game Friday without revealing names. “I’m not really concerned about some of the main guys, but there are a couple of guys that need to play a little better since the restart and I’m glad we still have four games to get them going and give them that chance.

“I’m not worried about their work ethic or their conditioning or some of those things. I just need to get them a little more confident, have things go their way a little bit more.”

–Field Level Media

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