Friday night’s contest between the Toronto Raptors and the Chicago Bulls marks the third regular season head to head match, with Chicago (41-28) leading the series 2-0. Toronto (41-27), currently third overall in the Eastern Conference, holds a narrow edge over their counterparts with a half game lead. Lots of postseason significance in this one as there’s a logjam from the third playoff seed to the fifth as the Washington Wizards are on a bit of a roll. Creating any separation is key and not being the hunted will go a long way.
Both clubs have regressed lately, winning four of their past 10 games respectively. The Raptors squeaked past Toronto native Andrew Wiggins and the Minnesota Timberwolves 105-100 and have won two in a row, but are so far removed from their 2014 form. Luckily, they’ll catch a break in this one as the Bulls are a bit banged up – missing All-Star Derrick Rose and potentially forward Taj Gibson.
Kyle Lowry will be a game-time decision.
Cage’s Keys to the Game:
Play Smart and Distribute
If I see another Lou Williams or Greivis Vasquez contested three with 18 seconds left on the lock, I’m going to throw my remote (and hopefully it hits one of them). Seriously, don’t expect a win against a tough nosed Bulls defense if your offense is going to be predicated on isolation sets and perimeter scoring. Chicago features defensive smarts and athleticism at almost every position, which is a big reason why they limit opponents to just 33.1% shooting from downtown. No hero ball – make the extra pass and find the open man.
Chicago power forward Pau Gasol has found the fountain of youth this campaign and is currently averaging a magnificent 18.4 points, 12.0 boards and 2.0 blocks. The 34-year-old is a gifted low-post scorer who can score with both hands and punished the Raps early on the season with a 27-11-3 game en route to a victory. Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas will have their hands full and need to be extra attentive on the glass as the Spaniard is a NBA leader in defensive rebounds per game (9.1).
Play with Urgency
Now is the time to shine for the Raptors. The playoffs are soon approaching with only 14 games left remaining on the schedule. Toronto needs to avoid falling a** backwards into the playoffs and regain their early season mojo. Their past three wins have all been against sub .500 teams including Philadelphia, Indiana and the aforementioned Minnesota – yuck. Play with confidence and a sense of desperation.
X-Factor: DeMar DeRozan
The guard was rusty from midrange on Wednesday but still had a solid game with 21 points, seven rebounds and four dimes. He’s scored 20+ points in four of the past five matches and always gets to the line and converts. Look for the former USC Trojan to continue his scoring tear against the Bulls.