If you're looking at the standings right now the Raptors are tied for second (with the Hawks). The Bulls are right behind in third, by half a game. All three teams sit behind Cleveland, as expected, but the win totals for all these teams are close. Toronto is in a position, right now, to confirm themselves as a truly elite team in the Eastern Conference. They've beaten the Cavs once, the Hawks once and now, their second try at the Bulls is here.
In a shocking turn of events, Derrick Rose is out for today's game. He's grappling with a right hamstring issue this time, but really, it feels like his entire body is rebelling against the idea of "Rose, professional basketball player." Joakim Noah, the heart and soul of this iteration of the Bulls, also remains out. As a result, Chicago has come to rely on newer names as of late: Jimmy Butler, of course, but also Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott and, Bobby Portis. Their identity remains the same though--a tough out in the East, and a team almost always in the mix.
The Raptors are still, in their way, trying to prove themselves. Last year around this time the wheels were just starting to come off; a tumble down the standings followed. By the end of the season, the thought connecting Raptors to any kind of elite status was easy to dismiss.
The Raptors this year have shown themselves capable of gritting out wins, of hanging on to leads, of executing down the stretch, even of coming back in hopeless situations. Yes, they've let down at other times, made a mess of games, allowed teams to come back in and make things close. They are still rounding into form after dealing with injuries to Jonas Valanciunas and DeMarre Carroll. But they still find themselves in second place, set up for a back-to-back with the fourth and the first place team. (Yes, the Cavs loom tomorrow on the road.)
The time to prove they belong is right now.
Now, let's get to the comments.