NBA Basketball

Raptors-Bucks Preview

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The Toronto Raptors will need to develop a convenient case of forgetfulness when they visit the Milwaukee Bucks in a battle of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference on Saturday night.

The Raptors will want to push Thursday night's 125-107 loss at the San Antonio Spurs as far as possible from their minds. And they might also want to forget the first two meetings against the Bucks this season, both losses.

While the Raptors had Friday off, the Bucks tuned up for Saturday encounter by defeating the Atlanta Hawks 144-112, matching their season-high in points.

The Raptors-Spurs game Thursday was not a normal regular-season encounter. It was hyped as the return of Toronto's Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green to San Antonio after the huge offseason deal that sent DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a first-round draft pick to the Spurs.

The Spurs dominated from the start as DeRozan had his first career triple-double with 21 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists.

"My biggest takeaway was I think we didn't consistently execute, especially offensively," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.

"When you're chasing the game like that, it kind of looks sometimes like selfish play, but it's just guys trying to make a play a little too soon. We had two or three of those. ...

"But, in saying that, I can't sit here and say we executed well on defense, either, because they were lighting us up. They were scoring and driving and kicking and shooting and shooting open, so we didn't execute very well on either end."

Leonard led the Raptors in scoring for the fifth straight game with 21 points. He has scored at least 20 points in a career-best 15 consecutive games, averaging 30.1 points and shooting 52.3 percent (157 of 300) from the field, 37.5 percent (30 of 80) from 3-point range and 87.1 percent (108 of 124) at the free-throw line during that stretch.

The Raptors (28-12) have been playing without Kyle Lowry (back) and Jonas Valanciunas (thumb). They have had Leonard and Lowry -- who has missed nine of the past 10 games -- in the same game only 21 times this season. Valanciunas is out and Lowry is listed as doubtful for Saturday.

Toronto tied a season low by shooting 20 percent (6 of 30) from 3-point range Thursday. The Raptors are 16-2 this season when they shoot at least 35 percent from beyond the arc, compared to 12-10 when shooting below 35 percent.

"There are things that we probably need to nip in the bud soon," said Green, who did not score a point against the Spurs.

"I'd like to get it done, but I think it also happens with time and patience but also with health. I think we're being too patient at times and waiting. I think we need to jump on it right away and fix these problems ASAP, regardless of who's healthy and who's not."

The Bucks (27-10) have won nine of their past 10, including their over the Hawks on Friday. They are a season-best 17 games over .500. The Bucks have won their past five games by at least 10 points, with Friday's game being the eighth time they have won a game by at least 20 points.

Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon had 19 points each for the Bucks, and Giannis Antetokounmpo had 16 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists. None of the Milwaukee starters played more than 22 minutes, which should keep them fresh for the second half of the back-to-back.

A key to the Bucks recent success has been the return of their trademark defense that deserted them after they opened the season 7-0.

During a three-day stretch in the schedule, the Bucks worked on defense with good results.

"We really took a step back there for a while," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I think if we bring that every night, then that's going to give us our best chance to be consistent and be good."

Updated January 5, 2019

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