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Bulls vs. Raptors game preview: Chasing the #3 seed

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

[Thanks to AbhiD for today's game preview. Early 6pm (central) start on CSNChicago. -yfbb]

It is a period of darkness in the barren wasteland that is the Eastern Conference. Rebel ships have failed to gain ground on the cruisers led by evil emperors Darth James and Darth George, who have established their dominance in the year of the tank, smiting anyone who dares to challenge the incumbents of the conference championship. Only three squadrons from the (L)East have beaten both emperors: Atlanta Hawks, who have been reeling since the loss of their best player, Detroit Pistons, who have had to deal with Lord of Inopportune Jump Shots, and Chicago Bulls, who have suffered the loss of their leader to injury and frozen their first lieutenant in carbonite. Two teams have surfaced from the depths of basketball hell: The Toronto Drakes and Chicago Bulls: 3rd and 4th respectively; both are poised to fend off the tentacles of the Sarlacc pit at their heels and will likely face off for the final time tonight.

In all seriousness, these two teams are very different from their previous meetings. Their first match-up was Derrick Rose’s one game vacation where Chicago withstood a 37-point effort by the lone Drake all-star. Their next game was post Gay-trade, Marquis Teague started, and we shot a woeful 36% from the field. The most recent meeting was Deng’s last loss as a member of the Bulls (scoring a very Deng-esque 16 points on 15 shots).

This brings us today, with Toronto winning 7 of their last 10 with some quality losses (Portland by 3) and some not (Sac-town by 8). All in all, they have clearly been the best team not Indiana or Miami in our "conference." Hell, I’d consider the Big Ten more of a conference than what we trot out every night (look at these games from last night: CLE-PHI, TOR-WSH, CHA-DET, and ORL-MIL). HOW BAD ARE THOSE GAMES? I think I’d rather watch Captain Kirk dribble away 90% of our shot clock. Oh wait. I digress…

  • Player A: 21.5 PPG, 6.2 APG, 3.2 RPG, 20.42 PER
  • Player B: 16.7 PPG, 7.6 APG, 4.5 RPG, 20.14 PER

Player A’s team is 21-33: good for 10th in the East. Player B’s team is 29-24: good for 3rd in the East. Who do you think is more worthy of an all-star spot? Player A is Kyrie Irving and Player B is Kyle Lowry. I’m not saying Kyrie shouldn’t have been an all-star (he was MVP) or Lowry should have definitely made it, but the argument is there and numbers don’t lie.

After being passed over, Lowry has averaged 19.8 PPG and 9.2 APG in his last 5. While there have been rumors for him being traded, he’s been making it difficult for Toronto to part ways with him. The last time Chicago played up north, DJ Augustin logged a ‘DNP’ for the home team, and will be returning as a pseudo starter for the away team. I’m looking forward to this match-up and am sure DJ will be eager to make a statement against the team who cut him (a la Charlotte game where he dropped a cold-blooded 28 points).

At the off-guard, DeMar DeRozan has benefited from addition by subtraction: transforming the black hole left by Rudy Gay into his first all-star selection. Surprisingly, he’s only averaged 13 points in their last two games against Chicago, mostly attributed to Jimmy Buckets being an elite perimeter defender. Jimmy has been shooting better this month at a 41% clip and has been crashing the boards well with 7 RPG. He continues to average 40+ minutes, which is bothersome considering he’s had a lingering injury, but so is the way of Thibs. (47 minutes vs. Warriors in a 15 point loss: REALLY?)

At SF, Mr. OVO aka Mr. 51-Points aka Terrence Ross hasn’t done much since his big game. His minutes fluctuate between high teens and upper thirties (sounds like Chicago in March), he can shoot the 3-ball, but other than some exciting dunks I don’t really know much about him. Amir Johnson generally plays PF but is coming off an ankle injury and came off the bench behind Patrick Patterson last night in Washington. Taj Gibson has been a joy to watch, showing range in his jumper, a nice set of polished post moves he can finish consistently, and his interior toughness. I love the numbers this month: 17.1 PPG and 7.9 RPG. Message to Boozer: get your 16 points the first 3 quarters because in crunch time, you’ll be sitting with Rose.

And now, the man in the middle: JOAKIM NOAH, who's coming off a superbly, subtly, efficient performance in his second all-star game (go ahead, look it up, I’ll wait…) Here's an interesting statistic: total touches. The top 15 predictably consists of mostly PG’s, but look who checks in at #14: our center: at 3819 total touches. We run our offense through him and this facet of his game has developed to the point that he’s in triple-double conversations almost every game. He’s averaged 6.1 assists since Luol Deng was traded! I still think he forces a few passes, but honestly, I can’t complain. Jonas Valanciunas (more a traditional center than Bargnani) has enjoyed some success against the Bulls, averaging 15 points in their two wins, but I expect Noah to keep him in check.

I don’t see a point in making a prediction seeing as I consider every game for the Bulls to be a toss-up; enjoy the roller-coaster that will be the rest of this season.