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Stakes high in final Bucks-Raptors clash

(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

The Milwaukee Bucks will be trying to win the season series with the Toronto Raptors on Thursday night when they visit Scotiabank Arena.

The Bucks have not won a season series against the Raptors since the 2012-13 season, but there could be greater significance to the result come playoff time this season.

The teams are battling for first place in the Eastern Conference with the Bucks at 36-13 holding a half-game lead over the Raptors (37-15). The first-place finisher earns home-court advantage for all conference playoff series.

By winning the four-game series, the Bucks also would earn the tiebreaker with the Raptors. The teams have not split a season series since 2008-09.

The Raptors lost the first two meetings before winning 123-116 in Milwaukee on Jan. 5. Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam each scored 30 points for the Raptors in that game. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 43 points and 18 rebounds -- one short of his career best in each category -- for the Bucks.

"It's a big one (Thursday)," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said Wednesday.

"We need to see where we are against these guys again. We played very well the last time. We were highly motivated after a disappointing loss in San Antonio (125-107 to the Spurs on Jan. 3). We are highly motivated again. It should be a good test, a good barometer."

The Raptors have had three days off since defeating the Dallas Mavericks 123-120 on Sunday to salvage one victory from a three-game trip that started with losses to the Indiana Pacers and the Houston Rockets.

The game Thursday could also determine which coach will represent the Eastern Conference at the NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte, N.C. -- Milwaukee's Mike Budenholzer or Nurse.

The Raptors need to win Thursday and then Sunday against the Los Angeles Clippers for a chance to overtake Milwaukee in the standings and give Nurse the coaching spot in the All-Star Game. The Bucks also would have to lose to the Washington Wizards on Saturday for the Raptors to have the better winning percentage.

The Raptors have won a season-best 10 consecutive home games. The Raptors' last loss at home was Dec. 9 against the Bucks.

Milwaukee is coming off a 115-105 victory at the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday, a game in which it did not have guards Malcolm Brogdon (bruised sternum) and Sterling Brown (swollen right wrist).

Pat Connaughton, who had played in only eight of the previous 23 games, filled the void by matching his season best with 16 points.

"Unbelievable," Bucks point guard Eric Bledsoe said. "Pat's been great all season when he does play. He always stays ready; he's a veteran. He's a professional, so he puts in the work. As I always say, just glad to see him come in and play well and we win."

"We saw it a couple games ago how ready he is," said Budenholzer, referring to Connaughton's contributions in the comeback win over the Charlotte Hornets on Friday. "He's a professional and it's great to have him for us."

Antetokounmpo finished with 21 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds.

The Raptors used the three days to get in some quality practice time. Center Jonas Valanciunas (left thumb surgery), who last played on Dec. 12, has been able to participate in full practices and is expected to return in early February.

With OG Anunoby having returned from an absence for personal reasons, the Raptors' second unit is taking shape.

"We're finding our groove a little bit," Raptors reserve guard Norman Powell said.

"It's always something, whatever it is, personal reasons or injury, a guy misses a certain amount of games and we're trying to get a feel for putting them back in, guys getting comfortable with the rotations being put back in.

"Now that everybody is really back besides J.V. we're really getting a feel for the rotation, feel for one another and hopefully we can continue to grow our chemistry."

--Field Level Media

Updated January 31, 2019

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