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Raptors vs. Bulls: Finally healthy Raptors fall 104-97 to Bulls

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The Raptors lose the game, but re-gain their health.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Despite falling to the Bulls 104-97 after an ugly second half showing, this was in many ways a restorative game for the Toronto Raptors.

DeMarre Carroll was re-inserted into the starting line-up after limited minutes in his Saturday return; Jonas Valanciunas played for the first time in 17-games and was his usual pump-fakey, offensively-skilled self; Kyle Lowry played the way we became accustomed to watching during his outstanding November; and the bench became the team's chief concern again. Hell, Terrence Ross even found his way back to the dog house after a steady stretch of games (a couple swell blocks notwithstanding).

The last 24 minutes were hard to watch. Toronto's offense faltered after a strong start and no one outside of Lowry, Carroll and DeMar DeRozan contributed much of note in the back half of the game. The bench, as mentioned, reverted back to its offensively-challenged ways. A trio of reserves stood out as being notably ghastly: Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson and Ross.

Joseph continued his ride on the regression train. Casey only granted him 13 minutes of court time, with good reason. In that short span of time Joseph accrued a -25, posting just three points and a rebound.

Patterson was just as detrimental to the Raptors as Joseph on Monday. He was a -22 and rained down 13 shots from the field, connecting just three times for seven points. His season-long battle against confidence carried on, as he passed up a few more open looks from deep in exchange for clumsy drives to the rim - a concerning trend that has sapped Patterson's effectiveness this year.

Ross was probably due for a stinker. He had gone six straight games posting double digit point totals and boosted his season three-point percentage from a horrid 31.7 to a Ross-like 38.5 in the process. He potted just six points and went 0-4 from deep against Chicago. But his recent play gives some hope that Monday was a minor blip on a more consistent Ross' radar.

That sentiment applies to the Raptors as a whole. The Bulls are - in theory - a good and talented team. Losing to them isn't like dropping a pair of games to the Kings. Toronto has been remarkably steady through its first 32 games despite a barrage of injuries and struggles from secondary contributors, and is still a team on a 50-win pace that ranks 4th in offensive efficiency and has dipped in and out of the top ten on the defensive end all season. There is a lot more to be positive about with this team than there is to hit the panic button over - even after a loss to an Eastern Conference competitor.

The good feelings start, as usual, with Lowry and DeRozan. Lowry played like it was November all over again, piling up nine assists and six boards to go along with 28 points on just 15 shots. By Lowry's side, DeRozan initiated the offense rather than quashing it, just as he's done on the regular in recent weeks. He put up 19, eight and eight on 7-of-14 shooting. DeRozan looked especially good in the first quarter where he accounted for four of eight Raptors assists in the 32-point frame.

Toronto's offense has quietly evolved from being stagnant and difficult-to-watch to unselfish and fun this season, and DeRozan has been at the core of that gradual change. There are still pockets of ISO muck here and there, and the overall assist numbers of the team still rank near the bottom (51.0 AST% - 28th), but the ball movement is visibly improved.

According to NBA.com's player tracking data, the Raptors are averaging about 30 passes per game more this season than they did in 2014-15. With Carroll back in the line-up and Ross finding his groove, we could start to see the Raptors climb the assist ranks as DeRozan's teammates start to convert more of the spot-up opportunities he's creating.

One more thing to be giddy about if you're a Raptors fan: Valanciunas showed minimal rust in his first game back from injury. His prowess around the basket stood out tonight. He scored just nine points on seven shots in 21 minutes, but it was refreshing to see an offensively competent player roaming the paint as a target for Lowry and DeRozan. Valanciunas' scoring should continue to make like easier for his guards as he gets incorporated back into the system.

All told, the game against Chicago was tough loss, but not a heartbreaking one. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic as 2015 draws to a close.

What did you think of tonight's game?