Eastern Conference Preview
Bucks vs. Raptors
Season Series 3-1 Bucks
The Eastern Conference finals start on Wednesday night at Milwaukee, as the Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo will host Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors, as the East’s No. 1 and 2 seeds square off for a trip to the Finals.
Injuries: Malcolm Brogdon’s not all the way back from his right foot injury and may continue to come off the bench for Milwaukee’s ‘Bench Mob,’ along with George Hill and Pat Connaughton. D.J. Wilson’s also dealing with a left ankle sprain right now, but healthy or not, he’s not getting into your fantasy lineup, no matter how deep the league, or how desperate you are.
The Raptors are missing OG Anunoby after his emergency appendectomy. His loss may not seem like a big deal, but with Hurricane Giannis just off the coast of Toronto, they may need him. Pascal Siakam has been the primary defender of Antetokounmpo throughout the season, but Kawhi and Anunoby have also helped out on him, as well. And given how good Giannis has looked this far, the Raptors will need all hands on deck to try to contain him. Jeremy Lin is dealing with back spasms, but hasn’t been figuring into the Raptors plans when everyone else is healthy. In fact, in Game 7 on Sunday, the Raptors only used two bench players (Serge Ibaka & Fred VanVleet).
Eric Bledsoe vs. Kyle Lowry – I’ll give the edge to Lowry here, but it comes with a warning - The Bucks love shutting him down. Lowry is shooting just 23 percent against the Bucks this season, scoring 6.3 points, but handing out 8.3 assists in the four games they’ve played. He also hasn’t been killing it lately, averaging 13.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 6.0 assists on 40 percent shooting against the Celtics. But Lowry’s been doing more in real life than in fantasy in these playoffs, and that also means he’s due. I expect his play to improve in the ECF. Bledsoe is averaging 13.5 points and 6.8 assists against the Raptors this season, and averaged 13.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists against Boston in the last round. The Bucks will be looking for more out of Bledsoe in this series, as Giannis won’t be able to go 1-on-5 like he did against the Celtics. These two point guards are both pesky and should mostly cancel each other out in this series.
Khris Middleton vs. Kawhi Leonard – Middleton spent much of the regular season matchup guarding Kawhi, and he did a really nice job on him, as Kawhi averaged just 22 points on 43 percent shooting. But as we all know, Playoff Kawhi is a different beast this year and he’s coming off that 41-point smoke show that included one of the greatest shots in NBA history. OK, I don’t know how great it actually was, and I’m still not sure how it went in, but it will go down as one of the most memorable shots in NBA history. Kawhi averaged 34.7 points, 9.9 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.3 steals and 2.1 3-pointers on 54 percent shooting against the Sixers in the semis. Yes, Middleton does a nice job on Kawhi, but so did Aaron Gordon in the regular season, and Kawhi destroyed him in the first round. I think Kawhi is going to wear Middleton out pretty early in this one, which will (hopefully) mean that we’ll get a nice dose of Giannis vs. Kawhi head-to-head. As for Middleton, he averaged 19.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.0 steals and 3.4 3-pointers against Boston, and will obviously be a key component of Milwaukee’s offense against Toronto.
Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. Pascal Siakam – Giannis has been out of his mind during these playoffs and torched the Celtics to the tune of 28.4 points, 10.8 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.6 blocks and 1.4 3-pointers on 53 percent shooting. The only knock on Playoff Giannis is the 69 percent free throws against the Celtics, but if that’s his worst attribute (2.8 turnovers), what’s not to love? Siakam did a decent regular-season job on Giannis, but Siakam is in a funk and Giannis is at his peak. Milwaukee’s the best defensive team in the league, as well, so I’m going to be fading Siakam in DFS – especially if Giannis is guarding him. Despite a couple duds from Siakam against the Sixers, he still averaged 19.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.3 3-pointers on 44 percent shooting in that series. If he finds himself guarded by Giannis in this one, those numbers are going to drop.
Nikola Mirotic vs. Danny Green – There’s a chance Malcolm Brogdon might start over Niko at some point, but for now, Niko’s the starter. Mirotic and Green are equally frustrating to own in fantasy, as they tend to show up when you don’t need them, or after you have moved on, and not show up when you need them most. Niko averaged 10.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 2.0 3-pointers against Boston, and Green averaged 8.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.9 3-pointers on 36 percent shooting against the Sixers. Sunday featured one of Green’s famous disappearing acts, as he had just two points on 1-of-3 shooting in 30 minutes of the thrilling win. I do like Mirotic’s salary and as a flier in DFS, and will use him a lot. But with Green, you’ve got to pick your spots and hope you get lucky.
Brook Lopez vs. Serge Ibaka & Marc Gasol – BroLo vs. Gasol could turn into a 3-point contest, as they both dig the long ball, but because Lopez isn’t a bruising, inside center, my guess is Serge Ibaka will step to the forefront for the Raptors. He’s the one of these three that I’m most interested in DFS. BroLo scored seven or fewer points in four of his five games against the Celtics, and should be in for more of the same against the Raps. Ibaka got off to a slow start against Joel Embiid, as Gasol was the better matchup, but finished up strong, scoring in double figures in three of the last four games in that series. He also came through with three 3-pointers on Sunday and, again, I think he’s going to play a bigger role against the Bucks. Gasol wasn’t all that great against Embiid, averaging 8.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.3 3-pointers in 35 minutes a game, and those numbers should take a hit with a reduced role.
Bench: Milwaukee’s ‘Bench Mob’ of Pat Connaughton, George Hill and Malcolm Brogdon are one of the league’s best, while the Raptors will use Ibaka and a struggling Fred VanVleet. Anunoby will get some minutes for the Raps if he’s healthy, but Milwaukee is much more committed to their bench than the Raptors are to theirs. The Bucks’ strong bench might end up being the difference in this series.
Prediction: I think the Bucks have the better coach (Mike Budenholzer vs. Nick Nurse), the best player (Giannis), the better bench, the better team, and, last but not least, home court. Despite all of that it should be a dogfight of a series, and I’m taking the Bucks in 7.