After reaching their first ever Eastern Conference finals last year, the Toronto Raptors stepped into the postseason play trying to recapture the magic of last year’s run. On Saturday, the Raptors officially opened their first-round playoff series against the young and hungry Milwaukee Bucks.

What’s at stake?

The Raptors look to replicate their postseason performance last season when they went all the way to the East Finals against the eventual champion, the Cleveland Cavaliers. After a promising start in the 2016-17 regular season, the Raptors stumbled a bit midway due to injuries to key players – including a wrist injury to All-Star guard Kyle Lowry.

Nevertheless, Toronto hopes their trade deadline acquisition of Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker will put them in a better position once the playoffs start.

The Bucks, on the other hand, made their postseason return after last year’s debacle. Despite losing Jabari Parker again to a torn ACL, the Bucks finished their season strong, thanks to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s all-around brilliance and steady contributions from his supporting casts.

Players to Watch:

Bucks: In Saturday’s series opener in Toronto, Antetokounmpo recorded 28 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals to lead the Bucks to a 1-0 lead over the Raptors in their best-of-seven series.

The Greek Freek has to put up at least three more big-time performances in the series if they want to upend the Raps. Rookie of the Year candidate Malcolm Brogdon and shooter Khris Middleton would also need to step up in what looks like to be a seven-game first-round showdown.

Raptors: Demar DeRozan might be the Toronto’s leading scorer, but the offense still revolves around Lowry. The All-Star point guard didn’t play like one in the 97-83 series-opening loss to the Bucks, as he finished the game with 4 points on 2-for-11 shooting.

Lowry, who becomes an unrestricted free-agent this summer, will have to bounce back in a big way in Game 2 if he wants to keep the Raptors’ championship hope alive.

Prediction:

The pressure is on for DeRozan and Lowry to deliver the Raptors to the promised land. Failure to reach at least the Eastern Conference mean could only mean the end of the backcourt tandem. Raps' general manager Masai Ujiri took a risk by bringing another incoming free-agent Serge Ibaka into the fold. Thus, a first-round exit would be catastrophic for the franchise.

As for the Bucks, they are still pretty much in the learning phase of their development. However, a victory over a battle-tested team like the Raptors would only speed up their transformation into a legit title contender. In the end, the Bucks’ length and Antetokounmpo’s versatility will be enough to beat the Raptors in six games.

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