NBA playoffs 2019: Eastern Conference finals preview, prediction

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kyle Lowry

The Bucks will meet the Raptors with a chance to compete for a championship on the line.

The Bucks will meet the Raptors with a chance to compete for a championship on the line.

Milwaukee easily advanced to the Eastern Conference finals by defeating the Celtics in its second-round series. Toronto, on the other hand, squeaked past the 76ers when Kawhi Leonard hit a miraculous fourth-quarter buzzer-beater in Game 7, the first of its kind in NBA playoffs history.

The top-seeded Bucks and second-seeded Raptors were the two best teams in the East all season long, and Leonard and Milwaukee forward Giannis Antetokounmpo are two of the league’s biggest stars. This should be a fun series.

Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals tips off Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. ET (TNT) in Milwaukee.

No. 1 Bucks vs. No. 2 Raptors

Players to watch: Leonard and Antetokounmpo have shined this postseason, and the individual matchup between the two will be a must-watch. Raptors guard Kyle Lowry is a five-time All-Star but has been inconsistent so far in the playoffs, as he’s averaging 12.4 points while shooting just 28.1% from 3-point range. Toronto will need him to pick it up. Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon returned from a foot injury in Game 5 against the Celtics. His defense and 3-point shooting should have a major impact in this series.

Stat to know: Pascal Siakam has had a breakout season for the Raptors in 2018-19. He increased his scoring average by 9.6 points (16.9 per game), while also posting career highs in rebounds (6.9) and assists (3.1). He shot a respectable 36.9% from 3-point range, as well. Siakam has scored 20.8 points per game in the playoffs and has the potential to be a difference-maker against the Bucks.

Hidden storyline: The Bucks and Raptors benches have been trending in opposite directions. Milwaukee can turn to its second unit — led by Ersan Ilyasova, George Hill, Pat Connaughton and Brogdon — for long stretches. The Raptors, meanwhile, have received almost nothing from their reserves, which has forced them to play their starters heavy minutes throughout the playoffs. That fatigue could present a problem in the conference finals.

Odds: Bucks (-300), Raptors (+240)

Prediction: Raptors in seven

Odds provided by The Action Network 

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