The Eastern Conference has featured more turnover in its playoff picture over the last six years than the Western Conference has. But here are the Toronto Raptors, who hadn't won a best-of-seven series before last year, making their fourth straight appearance as a top-4 seed.
Dwane Casey, Masai Ujiri, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have brought consistency to the North. Now, we wonder if they can take another step after advancing to the conference finals a year ago.
The Raptors look like a better and more playoff-ready team than they've ever been. February trades for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker have given them a more versatile defense. And before Lowry missed more than a month of action with a wrist injury, the Raptors' All-Star backcourt was having its best season.
But the ghosts of playoffs past always seem to hang around the Air Canada Centre. Though they eventually made their way to a 2-2 tie with Cleveland last year, the Raptors struggled through two ugly series against inferior offensive teams.
This year's first round opponent could muck things up just as much or more than the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat did last year. The Bucks aren't an elite team on either end of the floor, but they certainly have the length to make things difficult for Toronto's stars. And though he saw 5 1/2 games of playoff action two years ago, this could be the coming out party of Giannis Antetokounmpo.
It's the only first round series between two teams that have never faced each other in the playoffs and it's a chance for both teams to prove that they've taken a real step forward this season.
Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for the 3-6 series in the East, with links to let you dive in and explore more.
Toronto Raptors (51-31)
Pace: 97.1 (23)
OffRtg: 109.8 (6)
DefRtg: 104.9 (8)
NetRtg: +4.9 (4)
- Only East team (and one of three teams overall) that ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
- Went from fourth on offense and 16th on defense before the break to 13th on offense and fourth on defense after the break. Only the Spurs had a bigger post-break drop-off in OffRtg and only the Nets had a bigger post-break improvement in DefRtg.
- Assisted on just 47.2 percent of their field goals, the lowest rate of any team in the last 27 seasons.
- Led the league (for the second straight season) with 21 wins after trailing by 10 or more points. Were at their worst (minus-0.3 points per 100 possessions) in the first quarter, but were the best fourth quarter team in the league (plus-13.0).
- Ran 73.6 ball screens per game, second only to Utah (74.2). Scored 1.22 points per possession when Kyle Lowry was the ball-handler on a ball screen, the highest mark among 89 players who used at least 300. He shot 42.0 percent on pull-up 3-pointers, the best mark among 11 players who took at least 200.
- Led the league with 24.2 points per game on drives. DeMar DeRozan (9.0) and Lowry (6.8) ranked second and 12th among individuals.
- DeRozan's 986 points from between the restricted area and 3-point range were 188 more than any other player. He led the league in both non-restricted-area paint points (370) and mid-range points (616).
- Serge Ibaka ranked second in the league with 512 catch-and-shoot attempts.
- Were the third most improved team in the league, 4.0 points per 100 possessions better than they were last season (minus-3.5). Only Houston (5.6) and Philadelphia (4.3) saw a bigger NetRtg increase.
- One of three teams (all in the East) that finished with a winning record and a negative point differential.
- Took only 47 percent of their shots from outside the paint, the lowest rate in the league. But only the Celtics made a bigger improvement in effective field goal percentage from outside the paint. After ranking 28th at 44.1 percent last season, they ranked 12th at 49.1 percent this season.
- Only 12.0 percent of opponent possessions were in transition, the second lowest rate in the league (lowest among playoff teams). They forced their opponents to take 18 percent of their shots in the last six seconds of the shot clock, the highest rate in the league.
- Bucks opponents shot the ball just 27 percent of the time after a ball screen, the lowest rate in the league.
- 69 percent of their opponent shots came from the restricted area or 3-point range, the highest rate in the league.
- Went 17-6 with Khris Middleton in the starting lineup. After the point he made his season debut (Feb. 8), they outscored their opponents by 5.7 points per 100 possessions with Middleton on the floor and were outscored by 7.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench.
- After Middleton (plus-5.7), their best on-court NetRtg marks belonged to reserves.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo ranked second in the league (behind LeBron James) with 456 baskets in the restricted area and ranked third with 13.1 points in the paint per game. But he shot just 33 percent from mid-range, the worst mark among 70 players who took at least 200 mid-range shots.
- Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker were only with the Raptors for the final meeting, which Kyle Lowry missed with a wrist injury. DeMar DeRozan missed the third meeting with an ankle injury. For Milwaukee, Jabari Parker played in the first three meetings and Khris Middleton played in the fourth.
- The Raptors were a plus-54 in 110 minutes with Lowry on the floor and a minus-17 in 82 minutes with him off the floor.
- The Bucks shot just 28 percent from 3-point range, with players off the bench shooting 9-for-39 (23 percent).
- Matthew Dellavedova shot 10-for-37 (27 percent) in the four games, the worst mark among players who took at least 25 shots against the Raptors this season. He was 6-for-15 from 3-point range, but 4-for-22 from inside the arc.
- The Raptors assisted on 55 percent of their field goals, their highest rate against any Eastern Conference opponent.
- Antetokounmpo shot 12-for-19 with DeMarre Carroll defending him. DeRozan shot 6-for-12 with Tony Snell defending him.