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  • The Bucks defeated the Raptors, 104–99, on Sunday in Toronto, marking the second time Milwaukee has beaten them this season.
By Kaelen Jones
December 09, 2018

Roughly a quarter of the way into the 2018-19 NBA season, many would consider the Raptors to be the toast of the Eastern Conference. As Khadrice Rollins noted in last week’s power rankings, Toronto’s roster, headlined by Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry, makes Nick Nurse’s squad a legitimate championship contender.

With the Raptors a favorite to emerge out of the East, it’s reasonable to begin imagining scenarios in which they could be challenged in the playoffs. If Sunday’s tilt between Toronto and Milwaukee was any indication though, a playoff matchup between the two teams could potentially be one of the most thrilling, well-matched series of the postseason.

There are worthy opponents who could hold their own with Toronto. At its best, the 76ers’ triple threat of Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons perhaps poses enough star power necessary to compete with the Raptors (yet Toronto is 2–0 vs. Philadelphia this year). The steely Celtics (1–1 vs. Raptors) have proven already this season that they can hang with and even beat Toronto. But Milwaukee presents a different test than either squad, and it goes beyond the obvious presence of Giannis Antetokounmpo.

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On Sunday, it was the sharpshooting of Malcolm Brogdon (who hit tying and go-ahead triples during the final minute-plus of the contest), the all-around effort of Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe’s presence around the perimeter and Brook Lopez’s down low—all in tandem with Antentokounmpo’s 19 points, 19 rebounds and six assists—that produced one of the most exciting matchups of the season thus far.

Of any of Toronto’s top Eastern Conference foes, Mike Budenholzer’s squad is the group that is arguably best-equipped to match the Raptors, particularly from a defensive standpoint. Toronto’s 99-point output Sunday marked their second-lowest single-game total of the year (and only the second time this season they’ve scored fewer than 100). The Bucks held the Raptors to 109 points (eighth-lowest total this season) in their previous meeting. Milwaukee’s length has caused fits for Toronto in each of the team’s two meetings.

Notably, Lowry has struggled in both contests. When the clubs first met in October (the Raptors played without Leonard), Lowry scored nine points on 3-for-14 shooting from the field (0-for-9 from 3-point range) in 34 minutes. On Sunday, Lowry was held scoreless, going 0-for-5 in 34 minutes. Fred VanVleet was effective, however, scoring 19 (including going 5-for-7 from three-point range).

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In each matchup against the Raptors, Milwaukee has been balanced and not solely reliant on Antetokounmpo’s scoring prowess. Five Bucks finished in double figures Sunday; seven finished in double figures in the first meeting. No Bucks player scored 20 or more in either matchup. Unlike the first matchup, scorching three-point shooting didn’t afford Milwaukee a sizable advantage. The ability to get to the free-throw line did. (The Bucks went 17-for-20 from the line; the Raptors went 6-for-7.)

Two more regular-season meetings remain between the Bucks and Raptors (Jan. 5 and Jan. 31). Then, the two squads will go their separate ways before potentially meeting again in the postseason. It's still early, but thus far, Milwaukee looks like the Eastern Conference squad that's best prepared to take on Toronto.

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