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Slumping Bucks prepare for another shot at Raptors
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Slumping Bucks prepare for another shot at Raptors

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MILWAUKEE — Losing a fourth straight game for the first time in more than two years — and the first game this season with fans at Fiserv Forum — was a bitter pill to swallow for the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday.

Thanks to one of the quirks of the NBA schedule this season, they won’t have to wait long for their chance at revenge.

Two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo spoke to the media Wednesday afternoon about the NBA-record $228 million 5-year contract extension he signed with the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday. 

The Bucks and Toronto Raptors meet again Thursday night in the second of a two-game miniseries the league added to the scheduling process in order to cut down on travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Toronto is Milwaukee’s fourth miniseries opponent of the first half. Tuesday marked the first time the Bucks have dropped the first game in one of those series.

Two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo spoke to the media Wednesday afternoon about the NBA-record $228 million 5-year contract extension he signed with the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday. 

The Bucks are 5-2 in those contests. They split their first at Miami, swept Detroit at home and took two in Cleveland before falling to Toronto.

“I think they’ve been a positive, at least for our team,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “From a simplistic view, it’s keeping us safer during these challenging times and anytime you can reduce travel, the quality of play is better.”

These series also have the benefit of helping teams such as the Bucks prepare for the postseason, when opponents meet for as many as seven straight games and adjustments are required to be made quickly.

“I think it’s cool and it’s good for us because if you make mistakes in the first game, you can focus on what you need to get right to beat that same team the next day,” Bucks guard Pat Connaughton said. “I think that’s going to be big for us going into the later half of the year and in the playoffs.”

Tuesday’s game provided plenty for the Bucks to address. Here are three of the most notable:

Raptors’ transition

The Bucks’ defense has been a work in progress, but the Raptors made a point to keep them from even getting set defensively by putting an emphasis on their transition game. It’s a tactic other teams have used against the Bucks that Budenholzer says requires players to remain focused.

“You can’t hesitate, you cannot relax, you cannot take one second off,” Budenholzer said. “Whether it’s a make or a miss or a dead ball, whatever the situation, you have to get back — all five guys — and be ready to guard.”

One of Budenholzer’s tweaks heading into the season was putting a greater focus on offensive rebounding, but he doesn’t think that emphasis has led to troubles with transition defense.

“It’s a lot of things,” Budenholzer said. “It’s not the easy ‘2-plus-2’. If it was, we could solve it quickly.’

Slowing things down

By getting out in transition more often, the Raptors were able to control the pace of the game, often getting the ball into the paint for easy baskets in the first few seconds of a possession.

Although the Bucks tend to play at a quicker pace, slowing the Raptors down will be a primary objective on the defensive end.

“If we can stay out in front of them, I think that clears up a lot for us,” Connaughton said.

Full effort

When the Bucks lost back-to-back games at New Orleans and Charlotte at the end of January, backup guard D.J. Augustin described the team’s next game — a home contest against Portland — as a “must-win” game. The Bucks responded from those losses with a five-game winning streak but have since lost four in a row.

There are any number of technical reasons for their recent futility; offensive droughts, defensive letdowns and even the absence of point guard Jrue Holiday, who’s still sidelined under the league’s health and safety protocols.

And while all of those issues are concerning, Connaughton offered a much more direct analysis: the Bucks are simply being outplayed by their opponents.

“We just have to get better,” Connaughton said. “Honestly, we haven’t been good enough in our last four games and it’s shown. Teams are getting themselves up to play us so we have to be able to match their energy night in and night out.”


Social media buzzing after Giannis Antetokounmpo announces 5-year extension with Milwaukee Bucks

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