NBA Basketball

Bucks begin rugged post-break schedule vs. Raptors

TORONTO -- The Milwaukee Bucks start a stretch of games Friday night that will give them a better idea of how good they are.

The Bucks (32-25) are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and their first game after the NBA All-Star Game break will be at the Air Canada Centre against the Toronto Raptors (41-16), who lead the Eastern Conference and are on a seven-game winning streak.

The Bucks' first eight games after the break are against teams that are in playoff contention. This follows a relatively easy stretch in the schedule.

"We know we've got a lot of games in a short amount of time right out of the gate and we've got to be ready," Bucks interim coach Joe Prunty said. "We know that (there are) a lot of tough teams coming. I think the big thing is (being) mentally focused on what we need to do each day, each game."

The Bucks are 20-6 against teams with records below .500 and 12-19 against teams .500 or better.

The Raptors, meanwhile, have the best home record in the NBA at 24-4.

Toronto needed overtime Jan. 1 to defeat the Bucks 131-127. The teams played again four days later in Milwaukee with the Raptors breezing to a 129-100 victory.

In what has been a positive first half, there is one concerning statistic -- the Raptors are 11-12 in games decided by six or fewer points.

Some followers of the team also say that the Raptors do not receive the respect that their record should have earned from the U.S. media.

"At the end of the day, people have their own opinions," Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry said. "We've got to go out there and do our job ... play basketball and not worry about anybody else."

"The record says we are (first in the Eastern Conference and third overall in the NBA) but for me to sit here and say we are the best team -- we have confidence, but I'm not going to sit here and say we are the best team," Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. "Right now, we're No. 1. The numbers say that."

One of the secrets of the Raptors' success this season is their dynamic bench. It means All-Star guards Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have been able to get more rest with reduced playing time.

"I love it," DeRozan said. "Our bench is everything. Our bench gives us older guys an opportunity to not play in the fourth quarter and to rest. It's great to be able to sit back and cheer those guys on while they go out there and pull out victories."

The Bucks are dealing with some injuries.

Center John Henson missed four of Milwaukee's final five games before the break with a sore right hamstring. He is considered questionable for the game Friday. It will depend how the injury responds in practice.

"This is kind of a crucial stretch for us and we need everybody back healthy, full time, soon," Henson said.

Bucks point guard Matthew Dellavedova, who sprained his right ankle Feb. 4 against the Brooklyn Nets, has not returned to full practice but is working on basketball drills.

Bucks forward/guard Giannis Antetokounmpo participated in the All-Star Game on Sunday in Los Angeles.

"You can never come back fresher after the All-Star break," Antetokounmpo told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I always try to do what I do, try to take care of my body, get some weights in, feel a little bit stronger and ready to push through 25 games."

This was his second appearance in the All-Star Game.

"I was definitely better prepared," he said. "I didn't do much stuff. I talked with my people and people around me that helped me with the All-Star arrangement. I told them that I didn't want to do much this year because I want to take care of my body. My first year I did a lot. I couldn't even rest, I was really, really exhausted. But I think this year I did a better job just arranging the stuff I did."

Updated February 22, 2018

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