The Bulls haven't been able to put a full lineup out on the court many times this season, but with the exception of Doug McDermott, that's what's going to happen against the Raptors on Monday night at the United Center. Derrick Rose will return from his son getting him sick, while Taj Gibson is set to come back from yet another ankle injury.
One of the few times the Bulls were able put play with a full complement of players was in the first meeting between the two teams in Toronto. Things didn't start too well for Chicago in that game (JAMES JOHNSON REVENGE GAME), but a dominant third quarter had the Bulls riding high until the final minutes, when Rose injured his hamstring driving to the basket. Still, the result of the game was an impressive 100-93 victory, which was the Raptors' first home loss of the season.
Jimmy Butler was awesome in that first game (surprise!), putting up 21 points, nine rebounds and six assists while shooting 7-of-10 from the field. Butler also locked down DeMar DeRozan to the tune of 3-of-17 shooting.
Butler won't get the chance to lock down DeRozan this time around, because DeRozan has been sidelined nearly a month with a nasty sounding groin injury. The Raptors (or The Drakes as Zach Lowe calls them) stumbled initially when DeRozan went down, going 3-3 in the first six games after the injury. However, Toronto has been on a roll lately, winners of six straight.
It should be noted though that those six wins have all come against garbage Eastern Conference competition: Knicks (x2), Pacers, Magic, Nets, Pistons. In fact, the Raptors have only played two games all month against teams that currently own a winning record. Those two games were both against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and both of those games were losses.
Looking back even further, Toronto has played just 12 games against teams currently in the playoff picture, with just two coming against Western Conference playoff teams. The Raptors are 7-5 against all the playoff teams and 1-1 against West playoff teams. So while that East-leading 22-6 record is impressive, they haven't exactly played the toughest schedule.
Meanwhile, the Bulls have been a thoroughly mediocre home team this season. Chicago is just 5-5 at the UC on the year, although the last time a really good team came to town, Rose was at his best in a solid victory over Portland. Hopefully Rose will come into this game with a similar mindset against Kyle Lowry, who is putting together an MVP-type season.
Speaking of MVP-type seasons, Butler has been especially ridiculous the last two games without Rose. (Butler is averaging 23.6 points in games without Rose on the season) I'm doubting Butler will go for 30 again with Rose back in the lineup, but you never know considering the groove he's in.
It'll also be worth watching how Tom Thibodeau works his rotation with the frontcourt all healthy. Mirotic's minutes have naturally cratered when Gibson, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol have all been in the lineup, but that simply can't happen at this point. Mirotic is too good to play five minutes per game, and his energy off the bench is always welcome, even if he's not dropping 27 points and making all of the three-pointers. That energy could be especially useful against a Raptors squad that boasts one of the better benches in the league.
So I expect a really fun game tonight on the West Side. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. CT and the game will be broadcast on CSN Chicago.