The Toronto Raptors will be aiming to go one further in the 2017 post-season than their exploits in the NBA playoffs last term when they were defeated by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Dwane Casey’s men won the Atlantic Division last term and secured the number two seed, putting them on a collision course with LeBron James and company.
They were able to overcome the Indiana Pacers and the Atlanta Hawks in their first two series, although both contests went the full distance.
That appeared to drain the club for the Eastern Conference Finals as the Cavaliers advanced to the Championship Finals at their expense.
Toronto have reloaded and managed to sustain their form despite an injury to Kyle Lowry, and will once again try to reach the latter stages of the playoffs, beginning with their clash against the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bucks have showed gradual improvement over the course of the season and with rising star Giannis Antetokounmpo in their line-up – they are a serious threat to the Raptors’ hopes.
We’ll now take a look back at the regular campaigns of both sides and break down the betting options for the first-round clash.
With DeMar DeRozan and Lowry in the line-up, the Raptors were expected to contend for the NBA Championship once again, with the club handing a lucrative contract to the former.
The 27-year-old has taken his game to the next level, recording a career high in his average for points per game at 27.3 – the fifth highest average in the NBA this season.
The Raptors got their campaign started with a comfortable win over the Detroit Pistons, but their Conference Final rematch against the Cavaliers – ended in the familiar feeling of defeat.
However, it was clear from their November form that their playoff place would not be in jeopardy as they won 10 of their 15 contests, despite losing back-to-back matches to the Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors.
December proved to be almost identical with the Raptors notching another 10 wins, losing four of their matches – although once again it was Cleveland and the Warriors who bested them, despite impressive performances from DeRozan.
At the turn of the year Toronto boasted a 23-10 record, leaving them behind the Boston Celtics in the division. A four-game win streak had them coasting for the playoffs, only to suffer their worst run of the campaign, tasting defeat in five successive contests, including a narrow defeat at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs.
The Raptors lost Lowry to injury at the end of February and the point guard was to miss all 15 of their matches in March, but that did not stop them confirming their post-season berth with a win over Dallas Mavericks on the road at the end of the month. Lowry has returned just in time for the playoffs and will be needed to challenge for the Eastern Conference crown.
The Bucks have returned to the playoffs following absence last year, with Jason Kidd beginning to turn the fortunes of the franchise.
Although Milwaukee have been a solid outfit this season – their hopes in the post-season rest firmly on the shoulders of Antetokounmpo, who earned his first All-Star berth this term.
Jabari Parker did offer an outlet to ease the pressure on his captain, but his torn ACL sustained in February has left the team short of quality options outside of the Greek.
The Bucks’ campaign began with a defeat at the hands of the Charlotte Hornets, although they were able to bounce back in their second match with a narrow win over the Brooklyn Nets.
Kidd’s side had problems emerging above .500 in November, but they were able to secure an impressive win over the Cavaliers, with Antetokounmpo scoring 34 points in the victory on the road.
Milwaukee suffered three defeats on the bounce in December, while the Cavaliers gained their revenge with back-to-back wins. Despite those losses, the Bucks were still able to end 2016 on a high note defeating the Chicago Bulls to leave their record at 16-16.
January knocked them off the playoff trail with a run of five-straight defeats, despite a number of 30-point displays from Antetokounmpo. Matters failed to improve in February, while the loss of Parker for the season was a huge blow to their playoff chances.
However, the Bucks rose to the occasion to make their surge in March, winning 14 of their 18 contests. The push included a six-game winning run as Khris Middleton, Tony Snell and Greg Monroe rallied around Antetokounmpo – returning to the post-season with a win over the Philadelphia 76ers on April 8.
The two sides have met four times already this season, with the Raptors edging the contests 3-1. It would be incredibly hard to look past them to advance from the first round given their experience in the playoffs and talent on the court with DeRozan and Lowry.
Milwaukee boast a top-10 defense – so life will not be straightforward for the Raptors even with the ability they possess. DeRozan and Lowry will need to have strong outings to penetrate the Bucks’ defense, with the physical force of Antetokounmpo and his average of almost two blocks per game.
If the Greek is able to be dominant at both ends of the court then the matches could become quite close. However due to the lack of quality support around him – the burden may be too much to bear, especially given his relative inexperience in the post-season.
The series may not be a complete whitewash as the Raptors had issues seeing off sides even in the first round of the playoffs last term, but Casey’s men should be able to progress without a problem this time around.
Therefore backing the Raptors at -330 with PaddyPower to advance is the best bet to take. The Bucks will do their utmost to battle it out and should be able to take at least one victory to put the pressure on Toronto.
As a result, backing the Raptors to win 4-2 at +400 with SkyBet would be a wise punt to take, with the added option of the series being decided in six games at – just in case the Bucks spring a surprise.
Toronto Raptors To Beat Milwaukee Bucks
Toronto Raptors To Beat Milwaukee Bucks 4-2
Series To Be Decided in Six Matches