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The Raptors Start a Demanding Six-Game Road Trip Tonight in Chicago

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The Toronto Raptors will look to give fans the Christmas present we all asked for–a revenge win against the Chicago Bulls.

Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

Team Records: Toronto 22-6, Chicago 17-9

Where to Watch: Sportsnet One, 8 p.m. EST

Okay, everyone. Deep breaths.

With a home-heavy schedule to start the season, skepticism remains around the Toronto Raptors - is this really as great a team as their 22-6 record suggests?

A six-game road trip starting tonight will help answer that question. It will take the team out west after Christmas, but it begins in Chicago.

Last time these two teams met on November 13, the Chicago Bulls looked every bit the defensive powerhouse of the East, riding an overwhelming third quarter to a 100-93 win.

The Bulls were healthy in that game, but their core players have been in and out of the lineup since, with sickness and injuries alike. Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson have missed the last two games with the flu and a sprained right ankle, respectively. Both will play tonight. Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol are both battling nagging injuries of their own, but are expected to suit up.

Chicago remains the favourites of many to win the East. At this point, though, even if their personnel is active, it’s safe to say they are far from 100 per cent.

One guy who is at full health and performing is Jimmy Butler, whose first All-Star appearance seems inevitable after a career-high 35 points against the Knicks and 31 points against the Grizzlies. He had 21 in the last meeting with the Raptors, but his defense stifled Raptors wings all night. Of late, the Bulls defence as a whole has been better than usual. They’ve held opponents to under 100 points in four straight games and are 13-2 overall when doing so.

On the other side, the Raptors will look to Kyle Lowry to test a potentially weakened Rose. On the Raptors current six-game winning streak, Lowry is sharing the ball remarkably well. Also, after putting up 20 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in the last Chicago game with DeMar DeRozan in, it’ll be interesting to see how he performs with the solo spotlight.

Other important players include Patrick Patterson, who can stretch Gasol and Noah out with his shot (Patterson is shooting a ridiculous 47 per cent on three-pointers this season). Jonas Valanciunas, obviously, will need to be huge on the boards as well, as Chicago’s size and activity on the glass punished Toronto in the last matchup. Landry Fields will undergo the NBA’s concussion protocol again today, and is a question mark.

After tonight, the Raptors will play road games against the Clippers, Nuggets, Trailblazers, Warriors and Suns before returning home on January 4. So, deep breaths everyone. We’ll learn a lot over the next two weeks.

What will you be watching for?