Sat May 18 4:38pm ET
By TIM REYNOLDS
AP Basketball Writer
Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry have more than held their own against Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton so far in these Eastern Conference finals.
Other than some pretty boxscores, the Toronto Raptors have nothing to show for those efforts.
The supporting cast hasn't supported much for Toronto, and with what is almost certainly a must-win Game 3 of the East title series looming on Sunday night at home, Raptors coach Nick Nurse is weighing lineup tweaks. Nurse suggested Saturday that Serge Ibaka may start at center over struggling Marc Gasol, and Norman Powell may get minutes that would figure to come at Danny Green's expense.
''We've got to be better, man,'' Nurse said Saturday. ''We've got to be more physical, we've got to hustle more and we've got to work harder.''
He may as well have punctuated that by adding ''or else.''
In this playoff format that was put into play in 1984, teams that win the first two games at home of a best-of-seven series have ultimately prevailed 94% of the time. And that's the luxury Milwaukee has right now, leading the series 2-0 after rallying to win the opener and then controlling Game 2 start to finish.
''We can't rest,'' Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. ''We can't relax. We can't assume anything.''
So the odds are stacked against the Raptors. Nurse was told the lack of success teams have when down 0-2 in a series, and insisted he doesn't care.
''I don't really give a crap about that,'' he said. ''I just want our team to come play their (butt) off tomorrow night and get one game and it changes the series.''
Leonard and Lowry are outscoring Antetokounmpo and Middleton 107-77 - which would figure to have been a boon to Toronto's chances.
It hasn't worked that way.
Add up everyone else's scoring in the series, and it's Bucks 156, Raptors 96. Rebounding has been one-sided in both games, with Milwaukee controlling things on the backboards. Bench scoring has tilted heavily toward Milwaukee as well.
''We're just trying to be us,'' Bucks center Brook Lopez said. ''We're not playing any differently, regular season or postseason. We're just trying to go out there and play Bucks basketball. It starts with our defense. Getting stops. Getting out. Playing in transition. Playing with pace. Sharing the ball and being aggressive and attacking the basket.''
The Raptors don't have to look at the history books to know this series isn't over.
All they need to do is recall the 2012 Western Conference finals. Leonard and Green were with top-seeded San Antonio, and Ibaka was with second-seeded Oklahoma City. The Spurs won Games 1 and 2 at home - then lost the next four, and the Thunder went to the NBA Finals.
''We have another chance to bounce back on Sunday,'' Gasol said. ''That's all that matters right now. That's all that matters.''
Here's some of what to know before Game 3:
QUICK WIT: Leonard, who isn't the most talkative guy in the league to put it mildly, had a simple answer when asked where the Raptors go from here after the Game 2 loss. ''I'm going to Toronto for Game 3,'' Leonard said.
WE (BARELY) THE NORTH: The series now shifts to Toronto, where the Raptors' motto is ''We The North.'' It is, but barely in this case. Toronto is about 430 miles east of Milwaukee by air, and is only slightly north. And it should be noted that Toronto isn't even the northernmost city that will be playing host to conference final games this weekend - Portland holds that distinction.
GREEK FREAKS: Census figures show that at least a quarter-million Greeks live in Canada, and roughly half of those live in Ontario. Antetokounmpo isn't expecting an overly warm welcome, but has seen a few Greek flags in the crowd on his past trips to Toronto. Antetokounmpo said he'd be touched if they were there Sunday, but isn't thinking about it too much. ''I'm going to try not to focus as much in the people and the Greeks and the population in Toronto,'' Antetokounmpo said. ''Just focusing on Game 3 and what we've got to do.''
OFF, WISCONSIN: Including Games 1 and 2 of this series, matchups in Wisconsin are rarely kind to Nurse. He played at Northern Iowa, a conference rival of Green Bay - and his teams went 1-8 in those games, 0-4 at Green Bay's former home court, the being-demolished Brown County Arena. Nurse said it was a nice place, but wasn't upset to hear it's coming down. ''There weren't very many good memories for me,'' he said.
BREAK FROM DRAKE: At least one Milwaukee radio station is taking this series extremely seriously. WXSS-FM is not allowing any songs by Raptors superfan Drake to be played on its station until the East finals are over. ''We're taking a break from you,'' the station wrote in an open letter of sorts to the Toronto native and courtside ticketholder.
Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (knee) is reportedly looking good in each of his first two practices, according to head coach Mike D'Antoni. "He hasn't missed a rep. Looks good. Shooting the ball extremely well," says D'Antoni. Gordon has been bothered by knee issues throughout this season. Gordon mentioned recently that he feels like his knee issues are finally behind him. He could have some cheap DFS value alongside Russell Westbrook and James Harden.
Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic (leg) and forward Zach Collins (shoulder) have been looking good during recent practices, according to head coach Terry Stotts. Nurkic has not played this season after breaking his leg in March of 2019. However, he is not expected to be limited during the restart. Collins suffered a dislocated left shoulder in October and has been sidelined since then. He is expected to immediately slide into the starting power forward spot. Hassan Whiteside should lose some fantasy value and playing time with Nurkic and Collins returning. Both Nurkic and Collins should carry fairly decent DFS value, but Nurkic might only play around 20 minutes.
Memphis Grizzlies guard Justise Winslow has hit the ground running during the NBA restart, according to head coach Taylor Jenkins. Winslow is expected to play both guard and forward for Memphis. His versatility is really going to come out in our style of play, Jenkins said. There is a good chance that Winslow spends a majority of his time at small forward. He should get a bulk of the playing time over Kyle Anderson or Josh Jackson. He'll be an intriguing DFS option because he can do just about everything on a basketball court.
Houston Rockets guard Russell Westbrook has reportedly tested positive for COVID-19. It sounds like he is feeling fine, but will need to self-quarantine for 14 days. He'll need to posts two negative tests before being allowed to enter the bubble in Orlando. It appears Westbrook should have enough time to join the team and is not in danger of missing out on the NBA restart. His fantasy value should remain strong alongside James Harden.
Boston Celtics guard Kemba Walker (knee) did not practice on Monday after experiencing soreness in his troublesome left knee. He had a little bit of discomfort after a couple of the individual workouts, said head coach Brad Stevens. The Celtics are going to be extremely cautious with Walker down the stretch. Stevens has already mentioned that Walker is going to be under a minutes restriction during the beginning of the restart. Walker is expected to be ready to go for next practice. Fantasy owners should know that his value is going to take a hit with less playing time. The team wants Walker as healthy as possible for the postseason.
Philadelphia 76ers guard Shake Milton has recently been scrimmaging as the starting point guard in practices. "I think he has a huge opportunity to help us accomplish what we believe we can. He's been doing an amazing job running the team," said Joel Embiid. Milton was averaging 17.9 points, 4.4 assists, 3.0 triples, 1.3 steals during the last eight games before the season was suspended. However, those numbers did come when Ben Simmons was unavailable due to injury. Simmons is spending more time at power forward now, so Milton should have fairly reliable fantasy value during the restart.
Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons has been operating as the power forward during recent practices. Head coach Brett Brown mentioned that Simmons is working exclusively at power forward now. He is seriously considering moving Shake Milton to the point guard spot during the restart. Simmons would spend more time off-the-ball with his new position, but Brown says Simmons is adjusting well. This position new could result in less assists for Simmons, but could be the best way to utilize Milton's talent.
Philadelphia 76ers center Al Horford might be coming off the bench with the second unit during the restart, according to head coach Brett Brown. Shake Milton has been running point guard, while Ben Simmons is operating next to Joel Embiid in the post during recent practices. Horford was playing off the bench during February, but was re-inserted into the starting five after Simmons got hurt. Horford's fantasy value has taken a regression when he comes off the bench. He won't be as valuable of a DFS option if that is the route the Sixers decide to go.
Philadelphia 76ers forward Glenn Robinson (back) was a full participant during Monday's practice, but received treatment afterwards. He was dealing with a sore upper back, but it's not uncommon for a player to experience soreness while working back into game shape. It doesn't sound like anything that is going to sideline Robinson at all. He's averaging 7.4 points through 18.9 minutes with the Sixers in 12 games this season. Those stats can be taken with a grain of salt because the team was banged up too. He'll probably see a reduced role in the playoffs, so there won't be much DFS value coming from Robinson.
Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac (knee) is going to be out at least two or three more weeks. The team needs a few more weeks to determine if Isaac is ready to return during the restart, according to head coach Steve Clifford. "In terms of will [Isaac] be ready, I dont think well know that for 2-to-3 weeks," said Clifford. Isaac believes he'll get back on the court this season, but players always seem optimistic about their injuries. He'll likely be limited if he does return during the playoffs. Terrence Ross and Aaron Gordon should benefit the most until Isaac is back on the court.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Rajon Rondo (thumb) was forced to leave Sunday's practice early after suffering an injury. He will undergo thumb surgery and could return at some point during the playoffs. Rondo is likely going to miss around six-to-eight weeks of action. Alex Caruso, Dion Waiters, and J.R. Smith will be asked to step up in the absence of Rondo. The Lakers are confident that Rondo will be able to contribute again this season. It'll be a significant blow to the Lakers if he's unable to play during the postseason. Caruso might end up benefiting the most, but it depends on what Frank Vogel does with his rotations.
Boston Celtics center Robert Williams (hip, back) is a fully healthy and ready to play during the Orlando restart, according to head coach Brad Stevens. Williams has only played in 23 games this season due to a left hip bone edema and a back issue. The shutdown was key for Williams to get back to being 100 percent healthy. However, Daniel Theis has locked down the starting center role in Boston. Williams and Enes Kanter will battle it out for backup minutes off the bench. There isn't much DFS value for Williams or Kanter during the restart.
Boston Celtics guard Kemba Walker (knee) is likely going to be somewhat restricted at the beginning of the restart, according to head coach Brad Stevens. Walker has been battling knee issues throughout the season, so it's not surprising that the team would bring him along slowly. The hope is that Walker won't be limited at all by the time the postseason begins. His fantasy value is going to obviously be hurt by the restrictions, but hopefully he'll be 100 percent healthy and ready to go for the playoffs.
Phoenix Suns forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (knee) has been doing a little bit of on-court work, according to head coach Monty Williams. "[Oubre's] in good shape, but he's not in the type of game shape that he wants to be in," Williams said. The organization has not officially ruled out Oubre for the restart, but he'll likely be limited if he does play at all. Williams has already mentioned that his starters are going to see less playing time during the restart. Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, and possibly Dario Saric will see boosted fantasy value if Oubre sits out. Bridges is the best DFS option out of the trio without Oubre available.
Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams was reportedly split 50/50 on whether or not to play during the upcoming NBA restart. He decided to let his decision on the restart come down to a team vote. We decided our decision was going to be everybody or nobody, Williams said. The Clippers are excited to have him for the restart since he's their third-highest scorer on the team. He was averaging 18.7 points, 5.7 assists and 1.8 triples before the hiatus. He'll carry fairly decent DFS value into the restart. The Clippers will continue to count on Williams to score off the bench.
Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro (ankle) is reportedly looking 100 percent healthy, according to head coach Erik Spoelstra. He mentioned in early July that he was good to go and the first few practices have confirmed that notion. Herro is back and ready to play, but his fantasy value is going to be shaky. The Heat are crowded at the guard position, so Herro is going to battle for minutes. He'll get his chances on the court, but he probably won't be a reliable DFS option while the Heat are healthy.
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Andre Roberson (knee) was able to go through practice on Friday, according to head coach Billy Donovan. "He participated in everything," Donovan said. Roberson has been banged up for quite some time, so it's nice to see him back on the court. It was reported that Roberson was ready to play around mid-June after not playing since the 2017-2018 season. It's unclear where he'll fit into the rotation, but the Thunder might be careful with him right away. Roberson brings elite defense to the table, but his fantasy value could be limited since he might only see minutes in the teens.
Free-agent guard Jamal Crawford has agreed to a deal with the Brooklyn Nets. The 40-year-old guard brings valuable depth to the organization after seven players decided to opt out of the restart. Crawford dropped a 51-point game with the Phoenix Suns during the 2018-2019 season. He clearly still has the ability to shoot the ball, which is great for Brooklyn since the team is thin at guard. Crawford should get plenty of playing time with the second unit. He should carry decent DFS value since the Nets are desperate for someone to shoot outside of Caris Levert.
Washington Wizards center Thomas Bryant has reportedly tested positive for COVID-19 and did not travel with the team to Orlando. This is unfortunate news since Bryant mentioned recently he was fully healthy after dealing with a foot issue. There is a decent chance he opts out, but Bryant has not decided yet. Davis Bertans has already decided to sit out due to injury concerns. Moritz Wagner and Anzejs Pasecniks would be asked to play significant minutes if Bryant decides to opt out. Wagner would have the slight edge in terms of fantasy value, but both of them should make an impact.
Brooklyn Nets forward Rodions Kurucs was reportedly starting at power forward during practice on Friday. The team is already down seven players for the upcoming NBA restart. Taurean Prince recently opted out which opened up more playing time for Kurucs going forward. The organization went through it's first 5-on-5 practice on Friday with Kurucs starting. It's unclear who else the team plans to bring in, but Kurucs is expected to have a significant role. He could have sneaky DFS value because of how much playing time he'll receive with the Nets shorthanded.