DeMar DeRozan is as hot as the Sahara Desert.
Khris Middleton is as cold as the Arctic Circle.
If the Milwaukee Bucks are to have any chance of upending the heavily-favored Toronto Raptors in their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series, they’ll have to find a way to cool off DeRozan and hope Middleton heats up.
If neither occurs, this series could be a short series for the Bucks.
DeRozan, the Raptors’ offensively-gifted shooting guard, enjoyed a terrific regular season. He averaged 27.3 points, the fifth highest in the league, and racked up 30 or more points in 31 games, a franchise record.
In the last 11 games, DeRozan put up Michael Jordan-like numbers. In that span, DeRozan scored 27 or more points in eight games. That included a pair of 40-point outings and another game of 42 points.
While DeRozan is clicking on all cylinders, Middleton has been sputtering. And, without having Jabari Parker (torn ACL) to complement Giannis Antetokounmpo’s scoring, the Bucks desperately need Middleton to be a consistently productive scorer.
But down the stretch in the regular season, Middleton struggled immensely with his shot. In his last five games – he sat out the regular-season finale against Boston to rest – Middleton connected on just 21 of 56 shots from the field – a paltry 37 percent.
Middleton, one of the Bucks’ few good perimeter shooters, also struggled from beyond the arc in that stretch. He converted on just 7 of 19 treys – a measly 28 percent.
How well Messrs. DeRozan and Middleton perform could determine the outcome of this series.
The last time we saw the Bucks in the playoffs was two seasons ago against the Chicago Bulls.
It didn’t end well for them.
The Bulls emphatically brought the opening-round series to an abrupt halt by annihilating the Bucks 120-66 before their home fans at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
The 54-point debacle occurred one game after the Bucks’ Game 5 victory when one of the Bucks’ tri-majority owners Marc Lasry told reporters how Bucks coach Jason Kidd had outcoached Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, ciomments that didn’t sit well with the Bulls.
That series was also Antetokounmpo’s first playoff appearance. Just 20 at the time, Antetokounmpo had a solid showing, averaging 11.5 points and 7 rebounds in 33.5 minutes.
But he also shot a poor 36 percent from the field, something he and the Bucks can ill afford to happen in this series.
Antetounmpo, by the way, is just one of only three Bucks who were on the 12-man playoff roster against the Bulls. The others were Middleton and John Henson.
MONROE’S PLAYOFF DROUGHT TO END
Game 1 of the Bucks-Raptors’ best-of-seven game series will be Greg Monroe’s first-ever appearance in postseason.
The Bucks’ veteran backup center has played in 538 regular-season games during his six-year pro career, the longest non-playoff drought by an active player.
Omri Casspi now has that distinction at 499 games, just 12 more than DeMarcus Cousin
You can go to the bank that every time Antetokounmpo touches the ball in the lane in this series, he’ll be swarmed by Raptors. They are acutely aware that the bulk of Antetokounmpo’s points come from in the paint.
“We got to bait him to shoot more jumpers,’’ said Raptors forward DeMarre Carroll who, along with P.J. Tucker, will spend the bulk of time guarding Antetokounmpo in the series. “I think a thousand of his shot attempts have been layups.’’
IN THE TITLE MIX
The oddsmakers at Bovada (www.Bovada.lv) have given the Raptors the sixth-best odds of winning the NBA title: 33/1.
Ahead of them are Golden State (5/8), Cleveland (10/3), San Antonio (6/1), Boston (16/1) and Houston (16/1).
The Bucks have the second-lowest odds in the 16-team field at 250/1. Only Portland, at 300/1, have lower odds than the Bucks.