The Toronto Raptors will open the playoffs against one of the NBA’s most exciting young superstars this weekend when they meet Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Raptors are set to take on the 22-year-old “Greek Freak,” a 6-foot-11 forward nicknamed for his rare mix of traits, from his wingspan to his athleticism to his long-legged leaps to the hoop.
“He’s a great athlete, a freak of nature. He reminds me of a young Magic Johnson as far as his length, size, the way he can pass the ball,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said in Cleveland on Wednesday, as Toronto prepared for its final regular-season game against the Cavaliers. “God forbid he gets consistent on his jump shot. He enjoys passing and it’s one step from the top of the key to the rim and he’s at the rim laying in a dunk. He’s a freak because he’s so different from anyone else in our league.”
The Raps beat the Bucks in three of their four meetings this season, and 12 of their past 13. Antetokounmpo averaged 24.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and seven assists in those four games.
The Bucks forward recently nabbed his eighth career triple-double, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar atop the franchise leaderboard.
The Eastern Conference matchup between No. 3-seeded Toronto and No. 4-seeded Milwaukee also brings a familiar foe back to the Air Canada Centre: Jason Kidd. The third-year Bucks coach had first faced Toronto as a player for the New Jersey Nets in the 2007 playoffs, then as coach of the Brooklyn Nets in 2014. Kidd’s team was the victor in both of those series. He also shares a link with Raptors coach Dwane Casey – the two men won an NBA championship together in 2011 when Casey was an assistant coach and Kidd was the star point guard for the Dallas Mavericks.
Kidd has on his staff assistant coach Eric Hughes, who worked for the Raptors from 2009 to 2013 and knows DeMar DeRozan well. Hughes was also on Kidd’s Brooklyn staff.
Kidd was chosen as the Eastern Conference coach of the month after leading Milwaukee to an NBA-best 14 wins in March – one of them a 101-94 win over Toronto. Kyle Lowry was still out, and the Bucks aggressively defended DeRozan. The Raptors star finished with 11 points, well off his season average of 27.9. Toronto’s Serge Ibaka and Milwaukee’s Greg Monroe got tangled up that night, exchanged heated words and were slapped with double technical fouls.
While the Raps went to the conference final last year, the Bucks missed the postseason. Milwaukee is making its second playoff appearance in the past three years after an up-and-down regular season. In February, the Bucks lost power forward Jabari Parker to a season-ending ACL injury. But around that same time, they got forward Khris Middleton back from a lengthy layoff with a hamstring injury. Middleton stretched the floor for the Bucks and propelled them to their best basketball of the year.
Milwaukee will pack the paint and force Toronto to get points from the outside. The Raps will be heavily favoured, but a young star such as Antetokounmpo, combined with some hard-nosed defenders, could keep the series interesting.
“I’m not going to get blindsided by Milwaukee being a young team,” Casey said. “I’ve seen what they’ve done against good teams in this league.”
Two series remain unsettled as the NBA entered the final night of the regular season Wednesday. The fourth-seeded Washington Wizards are locked in to face the fifth-seeded Atlanta Hawks. Final-night results were to settle whether the Cleveland Cavaliers or Boston Celtics will take the No. 1 seed in the East and who each will play in the first round. Should Toronto get past Milwaukee, it would face the winner of the series between the No. 2 and No. 7 seeds.
All of the Western Conference matchups are set. It will be Golden State against Portland, San Antonio versus Memphis, Houston taking on Oklahoma City and the L.A. Clippers facing Utah.Report Typo/Error