The Toronto Raptors boasted one of the NBA’s best offenses in 2014-15, but early signs indicate they could be even better this season.
They’ll try to continue their hot start Sunday night against the visiting Milwaukee Bucks, who have been dismal defensively.
Toronto, seeking its first 3-0 start since 2008-09, has averaged 109.5 points through its first two games after finishing fourth with 104.0 last season. DeMar DeRozan scored 23 in Friday’s 113-103 win at Boston, while DeMarre Carroll and Terrence Ross added 21 apiece.
Ross, who was a reserve for the second straight game after starting 123 over the past two seasons, scored 13 in the fourth quarter.
"Coming off the bench helps me because you see what the team needs to work on," he said. "It helps you focus on what you can do. I actually like it a little better."
Carroll was 4 of 7 from 3-point range and has two steals in each of his first two games as a Raptor.
Milwaukee was expected to take another step forward after a surprising sixth-place finish last season, but has stumbled out of the gates and is in danger of its first 0-3 start since dropping its first five games in 1976-77. This is the longest streak in NBA history of consecutive seasons without starting 0-3.
The Bucks limited opponents to 97.4 points per game in 2014-15 to rank eighth in the NBA, but have given up 240 points to New York and Washington. They let the Wizards shoot 51.5 percent – including a 12-for-21 mark from 3-point range – in Friday’s 118-113 home loss.
"We won’t beat anybody giving up 120 points," said Greg Monroe, who scored 22 for the second straight contest. "We have to be better at defense. That’s it."
Milwaukee surrendered 39 points in the second quarter and 36 in the fourth, conceding 14 to Bradley Beal and 11 to Ramon Sessions over the final 12 minutes. The Bucks led by 10 entering the final period.
"We have to take more pride in defense," coach Jason Kidd said. "We’re trying to outscore people and it’s affecting our defense. We’re not getting stops when we have to, but it goes back to guarding the ball. We’re not guarding the ball."
Despite their early struggles, they may be able to capitalize on turnovers Sunday. Toronto has committed 43 turnovers leading to 44 points for opponents after its 12.9 turnovers per game last season were the NBA’s third-fewest. Milwaukee scored 20 points off 21 Washington turnovers Friday.
The Raptors’ defense has also impressed, holding Indiana and Boston to 37.4 percent shooting, though both clubs ranked in the league’s bottom 10 in that category a season ago. Milwaukee finished seventh in shooting at 45.9 percent last season.
The Bucks shot 51.2 percent against the Wizards and enjoyed a strong season debut by Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored 23 of his 27 points in the first half. He was suspended for the opener due to a flagrant foul assessed in Game 6 of last season’s first-round playoff series against Chicago.
John Henson is listed as out after missing Friday’s game due to a sore Achilles, while O.J. Mayo (strained hamstring) and Jabari Parker (knee surgery) remain sidelined.
Milwaukee ended a six-game losing streak in the series with an 82-75 victory at Toronto on Feb. 2.