The Toronto Raptors are back in action tonight against the Chicago Bulls. The Raptors haven’t seen any success against the team from the Windy City this season dropping both of their previous matchups. The Bulls are a team that are slowly getting healthier. They’ve been ravaged by injuries most of the season and currently sit 9th in the Eastern conference. The Bulls sit just one game behind 8th place Detroit Pistons and could potentially be a first round matchup for the Raptors this post-season. With how the Bulls have handled the Raptors so far this season, facing the Bulls could be a worst case scenario for Toronto in the opening round.
The Raptors are coming off a strong overtime win against the Miami Heat which saw DeMar DeRozan put up a monstrous 38 points & 10 rebounds. The Bulls will have their own superstar shooting guard return to the lineup tonight in Jimmy Butler; who hasn’t played in the Bulls last 14 games with a left knee injury.
Cages’s Keys to the game
Get on them early:
Let’s just say the Bulls are slightly undermanned, however over the years they’ve proven that they can play with or without their star player. Pau Gasol is out. Mike Dunleavy Jr. is out. Derrick Rose is 50-50 decision. Although Butler may make his return to the lineup, it likely wont be enough if the Raptors come out with energy. The Raptors need to push the pace against this Bulls team and not allow their half=court defence to get set up. It was then that the Raptors allowed the Bulls to get back into the game during their last matchup.
Find a body
The Bulls have a simple formula. Crash the boards. The Raptors need to emulate that and keep Chicago off the glass. The Bulls are 2nd best in the association when it comes to rebounding. We all know Bismack Biyombo is going to bring it on the glass, it’s just a matter if his energy will rub off on the likes of Patrick Patterson and Luis Scola. The Raptors aren’t a great rebounding team because they do a lot of ball watching. Toronto needs to forget the ball and find a body. Rebounding leads to controlled possessions – and the Raptors will need all that they can get.
Make a statement
Regardless of how banged up their opponent is, the Raptors need to come out and pummel the Bulls. A season sweep against a potential first round playoff opponent is not acceptable especially when they’re coming in as the lower seed. The Raptors need this win not for the stake of the standings, but for the sake of maintaining a mental edge against their opponent.
X-Factor: Jonas Valanciunas
The front-court for the Bulls is a bit thin right now, so Joans Valanciunas will be the player that pushes the Raptors over the edge in this contest. With the Bulls to load up DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, it shoud be a no brainer to dump it down low to the big Lithuanian barring he doesn’t find himself in foul trouble. Furthermore a strong game from JV in a game like this could do a number for his confidence moving towards the final stretch of the season. Let’s hope the team recognizes him importance moving forward.