Milwaukee made it. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks battled past key injuries and used a crucial 14-3 stretch in March to earn the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, their best finish to a regular season since 2010. Milwaukee meets a Toronto Raptors team brimming with postseason experience and expectations after falling two wins shy of reaching the first NBA Finals in franchise history last season.
FOX Sports Wisconsin gears you up for the big series against Toronto with a list of storylines and players to watch.
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Containing DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry
Toronto boasts one of the NBA's most talented backcourts in DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, arguably second only to Golden State's Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. DeRozan and Lowry have six All-Star appearances and one All-NBA recognition between them. Lowry runs the show at the point and can score from anywhere on the court. He shot 46.4 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from downtown this season, both career highs. DeRozan uses his big 6-foot-7, 221-pound frame to finish at the rim and get to the free-throw line. His average of almost nine attempts per game from the charity stripe ranks fifth in the NBA, and his 84.2 percentage from the line ensures Toronto gets the most from his opportunities.
A wrist injury sidelined Lowry for 21 games. The veteran guard sat out from mid-February until April 5, when he came back in style and posted a 27-point game on the Pistons. As much as we'd like to consider Lowry's rust as a factor in this series, he recorded a 43.8 shooting percentage in his four tune-up games before the postseason. It will be interesting how Bucks head coach Jason Kidd uses his defensive-minded guards in Matthew Dellavedova and Malcolm Brogdon to limit Lowry's effectiveness.
Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
Giannis returns to the postseason
Giannis Antetokounmpo will play in his first playoff game since his infamous ejection in 2015 after tackling Mike Dunleavy Jr., who, honestly, might have deserved it. The Greek Freak has matured since then -- in his physique, temperament and overall game and has become one of the NBA's best two-way players. Milwaukee's chances in the series relies heavily on Antetokounmpo's play. Who on the Raptors can guard him, though? Giannis has already gone off for two 30-point games against Toronto this season. No one on the Raptors, not even DeRozan, can match the combination of his size and agility, especially when he's driving to the basket.
Sergio EstradaUSA TODAY Sports
Desperation for the Raptors?
If there's going to be a year for the Toronto Raptors to make an NBA Finals run, this one is it. Raptors fans blinked once and Lowry is already 31 years old. He'll likely become a free agent in the offseason -- Lowry's $12 million player option for next year is expected to be declined because his strong play the past few seasons will earn him much more than that.
Toronto made headlines at the trade deadline when it sent Terrence Ross and a first-round pick to the Orlando Magic for Serge Ibaka, a longtime Oklahoma City Thunder player who's known for his defense. The team packaged Jared Sullinger and two more draft picks to Phoenix for P.J. Tucker, another defensive-minded player. It seems Toronto is stacking its team with size to be able to guard LeBron James and the Cavaliers, but the Raptors must get past the Bucks first. And that won't be easy.
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Battle of the benches
Milwaukee's bench scores 39 points per game, good for third in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors are far down that list --- third from the bottom with 31 points per game. After shipping off Ross for Ibaka, the Raptors' defense improved but their offensive depth took a hit. Backup guard Cory Joseph plays 25 minutes and scores just about nine points per game. Patrick Patterson, a solid contributor off Toronto's bench for the last four years, is only effective on offense when his 3-ball is falling.
On the other hand, the Bucks bench has a multitude of offensive weapons. From Greg Monroe's presence inside to Mirza Teletovic's threat from 3 to Malcolm Brogdon's knack for big plays in the fourth quarter, Milwaukee should be able to take advantage of the Raptors' reserves. Look for the Bucks bench to force Toronto to limited minutes without either DeRozan or Lowry on the floor. The energy of the two All-Stars can become a big factor if the series stretches to six or seven games.
Like Antetokounmpo, Middleton's only postseason experience is the six-game series loss to the Bulls in 2015. He scored just under 16 points per game against the Bulls. But the 6-foot-8 swingman has a much bigger role with this team. Antetokounmpo should draw the most attention from Toronto's defense, opening room for Middleton to score. After missing the first 50 games with a torn hamstring, Middleton returned with vengeance and was the X-factor in the Bucks' great month of March. His 43.3 3-point percentage leads the Bucks. If Milwaukee can get solid minutes from No. 22, it should be able to keep up with the Raptors on both ends of the floor. One more thing to keep in mind: With Middleton in the lineup, the Bucks were 19-10 and 17-6 when he started.