With a chance to expand their lead for the eighth seed in the East, the Milwaukee Bucks host the struggling Toronto Raptors on Saturday night. Currently 6½ games ahead of the Raptors in the standings for the final postseason spot, the Bucks can further strengthen their hold with a victory.
While the Raptors were surging earlier last month in the wake of the Rudy Gay trade, the team has stumbled in recent games as the offense lost its rhythm. In losing four of its past five contests, Toronto averaged just 87.8 points per game.
The inconsistent play of star scorers DeMar DeRozan and Gay has been a core reason behind the team's inability to string together good stretches. Each player has had a 30-point performance during the team's recent slide, but they've also had total duds, such as Gay's seven-point performance against the Wizards or DeRozan's nine-point effort against Indiana.
However, Gay may not play on Saturday while he deals with back spasms, as Raptors HQ, SB Nation's Raptors blog, writes.
The Bucks have some similarly streaky scorers in Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, which explains their own uneven play. After beginning February with eight losses in 10 games, Milwaukee finished the month with back-to-back road wins over the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets.
Part of the team's recent improvement may be the result of recent acquisition J.J. Redick, according to Steve von Horn of BrewHoop, SB Nation's Bucks blog. Redick's shooting has opened up opportunities for Ellis and Jennings to penetrate the defense, von Horn notes, radically changing Milwaukee's offense.
Those wins have Milwaukee back at .500, but the team's sizable lead for the No. 8-seed in the Eastern Conference is mostly the result of struggles from other teams. As the likes of the Raptors and 76ers have struggled in recent days, Milwaukee's lead has only expanded despite a generally tough February.
Saturday's game begins at 8:30 p.m. ET.
Can the Raps finally win in Milwaukee?
Generally speaking, I would imagine that most NBA players aren't particularly excited to visit Milwaukee in the cold of winter. Few players probably have a distaste for the place as much as recent Raptors players, though.
Dating back to the 2009-10 season, the Bucks have won eight consecutive games against the Raptors overall, but things have been even worse in Milwaukee, where Toronto hasn't won a game since November 2008.
Neither the Bucks or Raptors has had much success on the NBA landscape of late, but the teams' annual season series have been defined by Milwaukee's dominance in recent years. Toronto hasn't scored over 100 points on a Bucks defense since Jan. 28, 2011, averaging just 91 points per game over the past seven contests.