[Thanks to Matt for today’s game preview -yfbb]
Game Time: 7:00 PM CT
Network: CSN Chicago
Bulls: Jimmy Butler is still a game-time decision. Dwyane Wade (wrist), Nikola Mirotic (back), and Paul Zipser (ankle) are all OUT
Raptors: Patrick Patterson (knee, out)
News of the Day: Undoubtedly the Serge Ibaka trade. Toronto now has a quality rim-protector who can also space the floor. Essentially a perfect trade for the Raptors. But neither Ibaka nor the player they traded for him (Terrence Ross) will be available for them tonight.
- Raptors fans have had reasons to be nervous over the past few weeks. Toronto’s lost lost 5 of their last 8, with 4 of those losses coming to sub-500 teams. Predictably, the team’s offensive efficiency has regressed somewhat after holding the top spot until mid-January. The Raptors need this win, and badly. They’re quickly losing ground to the red-hot Celtics and Wizards, with the Hawks nipping at their heels. It’s very possible that a prolonged slump could cost the Raps the chance at home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs. A date with any of those three teams in the first round could spell disaster for Toronto.
- Injuries to Butler and Wade have completely cratered the Bulls offense recently. The team is averaging approximately 92.7 PPG over the past three contests, nearly 10 points below their 2016 average of 102.1 PPG. Expect more of the same if both sit out tonight, as no other Bulls players can consistently create their own shot. The Bulls face top-seeded teams in 5 of their next 7 contests (including this one). More missed time for the two “Alphas” puts Chicago’s playoffs chances into further jeopardy, especially if the Hornets and Bucks pick up steam.
- From an offensive perspective, both teams are remarkably similar in how they get their shots. Per TeamRankings, the Bulls generate 18.9% of their offense from three-pointers, dead last in the league. The Raptors come in 22nd, with 25.5% of their points coming from shots outside the arc. Just like the Bulls, The Raps rely on two players to generate all of their offense and play at a glacial pace.
- The Bulls have had plenty of recent success against the Raptors, demonstrated by a somewhat head-scratching 10-game winning streak that’s spanned multiple seasons. Chicago’s size advantage is especially potent against the Raps because both teams play at a similar pace; more rebounds translates to more possessions when pace is held equal, ultimately giving the Bulls more chances to score.
- If Hoiberg wants to give his team a chance (something I’m not always sure of), he should utilize lots of post-ups. Lopez will get good looks when facing the defensively-challenged Valenciunas and the rest of Toronto’s bigs. If there’s a game where playing Portis may actually be beneficial, then this it.
The Bulls can challenge the Raps with a less-than-100% Butler playing. The predictable nature of Toronto’s offense gives the Bulls a straightforward defensive game-plan. If Jimmy can shut down either Lowry or DeRozan, then the other will be forced to shoulder a huge offensive workload. It’ll also force the rest of the Raps to generate some points, something they’ve proven not to be great at this season. Butler should focus more on making winning defensive plays instead of expending most of his energy on the offensive end. If Jimmy sits, then things get innumerably more difficult. The tragic state of the Bull’s guard rotations will allow DeRozan to get a ton of quality looks outside of the paint. It’ll also make Lowry’s job infinitely easier, as he can focus on setting up teammates instead of putting up points.
TL; DR: Depends on whether or not Jimmy plays. If he does, the game could be close. If not, join in me trolling more delusional Celtics fans at CelticsBlog.