Before we backed the Bulls in Game Three without the Rondo news, we cashed the Milwaukee Bucks as a virtual pick in game three of the Eastern Conference Round One matchup.
The Bucks blew out the Raptors to take a 2-1 series lead and prompted Dwayne Casey to make a change to his starting unit. His team needed to get quicker, which meant it had to get smaller; and the Toronto Head Coach replaced 7′ Jonas Valanciunas with 6’4″ Norman Powell.
Valanciunas is useful against Greg Monroe but is otherwise a liability against any combination of the five Bucks perimeter players. In other words, he’s only playable when the opponent plays someone as unplayable as he. Valanciunas feels like one of the last of his kind.
Toronto can go so small because Thon Maker can’t take advantage of his size. He doesn’t have a post-up game and isn’t strong enough to crash the offensive boards. On offense, he’s essentially 6’5″, slow, and can’t shoot.
Maker can disrupt on defense, which is why he’s even out there. But that’s no way for an athlete like he to make a living in The Association. Either he develops some offensive skills or he’ll be playing overseas in a few years.
In the meantime, Toronto has the chance to advance to Round Two, and Cleveland. The Raptors are 1.5-point dogs in Milwaukee for Game Six.
From Game One, we’ve had a big Milwaukee road win, a narrow Toronto home win, a big Milwaukee home win, a big Toronto road win, and a big Toronto home win. Since Powell began starting, Toronto has won two games by a combined 36 points.
He wasn’t just out there, but the star in Game Four, scoring 25 points on 14 possessions (8-11 from the field, 5-5 from the line). Valanciunas looked more than willing to do his part too, going 3-for-5 and rebounding well.
Toronto has gradually dedicated more and more resources to stopping The Greek Freak, a trend I can’t imagine will stop on Thursday given Antetokounmpo was Milwaukee’s only threat in Game Four (30 points on 23 possessions).
If the secondary unit of Middleton, Brodgon and Delly have a big game left, Milwaukee can push this to Seven (a game it will very likely lose). But Toronto has some bad one-on-one defenders who have locked those guys down for two games now. My sense is that this series may be over, but that it’s presumptuous to overlook the home court.
A strange note: this game will tip at 3 pm EST (2 pm local). So I’m going to go in a different direction and look for a clumsy start to this one where the defense starts well ahead of the offense.
Free Pick: Under 98.5 in the first half (-110)