NBA

Preview: Bucks at Raptors

TORONTO -- At first glance, the Toronto Raptors appear to be an easy choice to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks in their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series.

The Raptors are 13-2 against the Bucks over the past four seasons, including victories in three of the four meetings between the teams this season.

"I didn't know that," Milwaukee star small forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said. "I haven't thought anything about that."

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The Bucks do have something to take into the opener of the best-of-seven series at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday.

Milwaukee ended a seven-game losing streak to Toronto on March 4 with a 101-94 victory at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. The Raptors were without All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry at the time.

The encouraging thing from the Bucks' standpoint is that they went 14-4 in March and were 21-15 overall after their most recent loss to Toronto on Jan. 27.

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"We feel good about ourselves," Antetokounmpo said. "In the second half after the All-Star break, we played great basketball, team basketball. A lot of people expect a lot from us, to do better than two years ago. We will as long as we stick together, do what we do, our team habits, the things we worked on in training camp and just believe in ourselves."

Raptors coach Dwane Casey said his team must be careful with the Bucks despite the success against them,

"If we don't go into this series with a sense of urgency knowing how hard this team plays, and think it's a wrap just because we show up, it's not going to happen," Casey said. "I'm not going to get blindsided by seeing Milwaukee. They are a good young team. I have seen what they have done against good teams in this league and what they are capable of doing."

He particularly respects 22-year-old Antetokounmpo.

"He reminds me so much of a young Magic Johnson as far as his length, his size, the way he can pass the ball," Casey said. "And Lord forbid he gets consistent on his jump shots. He's totally different than anything else in our league. He also plays with so much force. He's one young kid that has been taught the right way as far as how hard you have to play every possession. He has got that down."

This will be the playoff debut for Antetokounmpo.

"The kid plays so hard, he has a heart as big as this table," Casey said. "And his compete level, you've got to match his compete level to play against him."

Bucks coach Jason Kidd talked about the Raptors' domination of his team. "They've got some talented players. Talent always wins.

"When you talk about (DeMar) DeRozan and Lowry, those guys have been together for some time and they've been through the process. They have talented guys and you add (P.J.) Tucker and (Serge) Ibaka to that mix, they've gotten better. They're a tough opponent, they know how to play and they're well-coached."

Toronto will have home-court advantage with the first two games in Canada.

The crowd is expected to be loud in its support of the Raptors.

"We've already talked about the atmosphere in Toronto," Kidd said. "It's like no other, it's pretty cool to be involved (in it)" Kidd said. "They really get behind their team. … We've talked about the noise and the communication that everybody has to get on the same page. Again, paying attention to the details and understanding what's happening is going to be key."

The Raptors lost Game 1 of each of their playoff series last year.

"I think that's our challenge in Game 1," Casey said. "We get so hyped up, there's such . . . a lot of talk or whatever about the game, I don't know if we overthink the situation and not just play basketball.

"I think the experience from last year is a huge help, and we thought that from the year before. Again, we've just got to go out there and do it and not overthink it."

DeRozan feels the Raptors will benefit from their playoff experience of recent years.

"We learned every type of way you can learn, from being swept to being an inexperienced young team playing against the most veteran team you can go against in Brooklyn that year to going to the Eastern Conference final, six games," DeRozan said. "The experience that you gain from that is damn near everything you can get out of the playoffs other than a Finals. So going into Saturday's game, we've got to keep that mindset of understanding we know how hard it is to win, especially that first game. Go out there, be locked in."

The Bucks will appreciate reaching the playoffs because they overcame injuries to Khris Middleton, who returned from a torn hamstring to play 29 games, and Jabari Parker, whose season ended in February because of knee surgery.

Milwaukee also had second-round draft pick Malcolm Brogdon emerge as a top rookie.

"People don't expect us to beat the Raptors," Brogdon said. "People didn't expect us to make the playoffs after we lost a few games during the regular season. We're going in with an underdog mentality to prove people wrong. I feel like we've proven people wrong up to this point and we're going to continue to do so."