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Gary Trent Jr. leads Raptors past Bucks 121-105

TORONTO – Everything the Toronto Raptors did Sunday was geared toward playoff preparation.

Gary Trent Jr. scored 23 points as Toronto downed the Milwaukee Bucks 121-105, with both teams resting key players ahead of the NBA’s post-season.

The Raptors finished the regular season ninth in the Eastern Conference and will host the No. 10 Chicago Bulls in a play-in game Wednesday.

Raptors leading scorer Pascal Siakam, point guard Fred VanVleet, and defensive stalwart O.G. Anunoby all sat out to rest.

Trent started at guard. Malachi Flynn also started and poured in a season-high 20 points.

Forwards Precious Achiuwa, Scottie Barnes and Jakob Poeltl rounded out the Raptors’ lineup at tipoff.

“It’s called post-season for a reason, it’s a whole different season,” Achiuwa said. “So we’ve got to go in on Wednesday, just be more locked in to the details and understand what’s at hand and we just got to do it.

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“I’ll come up, play really hard, play tough, you know, and do all the right things.”

Barnes, who had eight points and two rebounds in 21:43 of court time, feels ready for the elimination game against the Bulls.

The winner meets the loser of the seventh and eighth seeds game between the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks on Friday.

“I feel like that’s me as a player. I love the competition. I love those big, hype games,” Barnes said. “I feel like that’s where I excel. I’m really hyped for those and I’m ready to play when that time comes.”

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Achiuwa’s double-double of 14 points and 13 rebounds also paced Toronto (41-41).

Flynn and Achiuwa are typically bench players for the Raptors. Achiuwa said Sunday’s game helped them prepare for whatever roles they might play in the post-season.

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“It’s important for the rest of the guys to go out there, get a run in, staying ready,” he said. “We understand what the task ahead is and how we’ve got to stay ready and prepared for it.”

Bobby Portis Jr. scored 16 for Milwaukee (58-24) and Meyers Leonard earned a double-double with 10 points and 12 assists.

Milwaukee had already clinched the best record in the NBA. The Bucks rested superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, point guard Jrue Holiday and centre Brook Lopez.

Toronto head coach Nick Nurse said before the game that Trent would play “as many minutes as he can handle,” after the shooting guard missed significant time with an elbow injury and lower back spasms.

“That certainly had to be one of the main goals, other than winning, to get Gary on track,” said Nurse. “He came out ready to go and got a bunch of good looks and did a good job.”

Goran Dragic was booed by a sellout of 19,800 at Scotiabank Arena when he came off Milwaukee’s bench in the first quarter.

Dragic played five games for Toronto in the 2021-22 season before stepping away from the team for “personal reasons,” which led to his trade to San Antonio.

The Spurs bought out his contract five days later.

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Trent had 20 points — including three shots from beyond the arc — by the intermission. Nurse increasingly relied on his bench in the second quarter as the Raptors built a 67-55 lead in the first half.

Guard Will Barton stripped Milwaukee’s MarJon Beauchamp of the ball just past the midway point of the third for the sixth of eight Raptors’ steals in the game.

Toronto set a single-season franchise record of 772 total steals to surpass the 1997-98 season (769). The Raptors averaged a league-best 9.4 steals per game this season.

“That’s something that we emphasize and it’s good to see it,” said Nurse. “To do it over the course of 82 games means there was a lot of good effort and energy and a lot of good pressure and aggressiveness out there.”

Ron Harper Jr. made a 24-foot three-pointer with 6:53 left in the game to extend Toronto’s lead to 20 points. The Raptors didn’t let up, with rookie centre Christian Koloko’s free throw the final score of the game.

It was Toronto’s fourth straight home victory. The Raptors have finished above .500 eight the last nine seasons.

JURASSIC PARK — Preparation began outside Scotiabank Arena for playoff viewing parties for both the Raptors and the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. A courtyard west of the arena was cordoned off with a stage set up to host fans watching the Raptors play-in game on outdoor screens. The Maple Leafs are currently the second seed in the NHL’s Eastern Conference, with that league’s post-season starting April 17.

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UP NEXT — Toronto hosts a play-in game Wednesday against the Chicago Bulls.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 9, 2023.

&copy 2023 The Canadian Press

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