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3 in the Key - Raptors' Game-Day Preview vs. Bulls

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The Toronto Raptors actually beat the Chicago Bulls last time the clubs met.  But as the HQ discusses, that's a long shot tonight as the Dinos face a team that's primed for a run to the NBA Finals.

After work yesterday, I got talking with D-Stance about the last two articles I posted, and therefore about the Raptors' future.

In the process, we both came to the same conclusion:

This is the worst season in Toronto Raptors' history.

That statement alone is probably worth a blog post to fully investigate and discuss but let's look at the basics.

Even if the club wins three of its last eight games, a tall task in itself considering the team's schedule, that would mark a 23 and 59 season, third worst in club history in terms of winning percentage.

And considering the two seasons that had worse win totals were the 21 win expansion season, and the 16 win 1997-98 season that at least featured legit future stars in Damon Stoudamire, Tracy McGrady and Marcus Camby well, this current one looks pretty bad.

Add on declining attendance, and a product on the court that isn't even that exciting to watch, and you've got a good chunk of anecdotal evidence supporting this season as the worst ever.

The point of this opening though isn't to dwell on how bad things are, again, I'll save that discussion for a rainy day in the off-season, but instead, to say that it sucks.

Big time.

When Bryan Colangelo came on board nearly five years ago did anyone anticipate that he was building towards a 20 win season?

Yep, injuries hurt this year but even with a full slate of bodies how many wins are we talking here max?  25?  27?

It's not good, and as a not only someone who covers this team, but a fan, it pains me to see how far this team has fallen not only in the standings, but in the eyes of the average NBA fan.

It's gotten so bad that my buddy Seth Rosenthal, who runs SB Nation's Knicks' blog, Posting and Toasting, ran a "Raptors vs Knicks" game-day thread as an April Fools joke last night.

Why?

Because as many of his readers noted, the Raptors have become an afterthought and thus a perfect team to pick for this joke.

So how does this franchise get back on track?

Again, that's probably a full blog post onto itself, or in fact a series of them, but looking to tonight's opponent might not be a bad idea to start.  Many forget that the Chicago Bulls were essentially in the same boat as Toronto now finds itself, only remained there for the greater part of the last decade.  Post-Michael Jordan, Chicago posted years of 13, 17, 15, 21, 30 and 23 wins respectively until they acquired enough talent and experience to break out of their funk.

The Bulls built up a solid collection of young talent, and plied some of it into veteran experience (or simply found a sucker willing to roll the dice in Eddy Curry's case) all the while looking for the right pieces that fit.

Of course you need a little luck to be good, and the Bulls jumping to top spot in the 2008 NBA Draft, enabling them to nab Derrick Rose, really took their team to another level.

But if you look at the reasons this team is on pace to win the Eastern Conference crown, it extends well beyond Mr. Rose and even Mr. Thibodeau.  The Bulls have done an A1 job of drafting and collecting key pieces so that when they hit their homerun with Rose, things fell into place quite nicely.

I asked our friendly neighbourhood Bulls Blogger from one of the interweb's original blogs, Blog-A-Bull, about this depth in this week's edition of "Blogging with the Enemy," and here was his take:

1)  RaptorsHQ:  The Bulls 2010-11 season to date has been nothing short of spectacular.  Derrick Rose has been huge, as well as Tom Thibodeau, but give us a take on some of the team's more unsung heroes this year.  For a rebuilding team like the Raptors, it seems like they could learn a lot from this Chicago team, that acquired some nice bench pieces like Taj Gibson through the draft, and then added in the starting quality parts like Carlos Boozer.

Blog-A-Bull:  As you mentioned, the stars of the team may be Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau, but this is a really deep squad. A very surprising development over the course of this season has been the use of the bench, a unit that has gone from a weakness to a strength. CJ Watson, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver, Gibson, and Omer Asik are a great defensive lineup (and when they use starter Luol Deng instead of Korver, that's literally the best defensive lineup in the NBA). These were all players signed to very reasonable contracts after the Bulls spent their biggest offseason check on Carlos Boozer. Asik in particular has been a revelation: acquired in a draft-day trade several years ago, he had promising statistics in Europe but it's been pleasantly surprising how vital he's become to the Bulls.


2)  RHQ:  The Chicago Bulls are currently battling for top spot in the Eastern Conference and a first-round date with either the Indiana Pacers or Charlotte Bobcats.  If the Bulls drop down a notch or two, they could face clubs like New York and Philadelphia.  Which first-round opponent would you least like to see Chicago face and why?

B-A-B:  I'll preface it by saying I think the Bulls handle any of the bottom-half Eastern Conference teams pretty easily. The Bulls did just drop a home game to Philadelphia, and are 0-2 this season against the Knicks (they haven't played the Melo version). Philly did show some matchup issues with their athleticism, but I think that it's actually the Knicks who could give the Bulls the most trouble in a couple of these playoff games. Great offense beats great defense, and while the Bulls have the latter, if the game is close I can see Melo and Amare winning a game on their own. One of the many reasons the #1 seed is worth going all-out for is that instead of worrying about either, they would instead face an 8th seed which is a relative gimme.


3) RHQ:  Keys to tonight's game - what do the Bulls need to do to avenge the loss from the last time these teams met?

B-A-B:  Holy crap, the Bulls lost to the Raptors last time? ::looks it up:: Oh right, that was Noah's first game back from injury, and Asik strangely barely played. Bad times. As I mentioned previously regarding the Sixers, the Raptors also can throw athletes at the Bulls that could give them trouble. I think the key will be simply to get off to a solid start and establish a pace and lead, limiting turnovers so the Raps can't get any easy looks. If they force Toronto to score in the half-court it'll be a pretty easy night. Plus the Bulls will be at home for this one.    

 

A big thanks to the Bulls Blogger for the insight on a game that well...Toronto needs to lose.

I watched the Kings lose to the Nuggets last night unfortunately, but saw the Wizards beat the Cavs (yes, this is what my Friday nights have been relegated to, praying for ping pong balls), so the Raps need to keep pace here with another L.

Do we really need three keys then for this one?

I think not, as considering that we may be getting 35+ minutes of Jerryd Bayless thanks to Jose Calderon's troublesome hammy, it's admittedly hard to see the outcome going any other way unless Chicago simply rolls over.

However the Bulls are still vying for not only top spot in the East, but also in the league since the San Antonio Spurs are suddenly doing their best Raptors' impersonation losing six straight.

This should then be an L then for TO, and at this point of the season, unfortunately, it's hard not to hope for anything less.

Maybe Toronto can't come up with a Derrick Rose.

But a Kyrie Irving or Derrick Williams would be a another big step on the road back to respectability.