The Toronto Raptors stood pat at the deadline. If you need help getting over it, just do what I do and imagine the Raptors Mascot standing on Patrick Patterson's shoulders whenever anyone says the words 'The Raptors stood pat'. It's delightful.
Toronto hasn't beaten Chicago this season, and looks to kick off their stretch run with a victory on the road over the banged-up and slumping Bulls, who lost nine of their last twelve games heading into the All-Star break. They dropped six of their final seven, including back to back blowouts by Eastern Conference rivals Atlanta and Charlotte right before the break.
As Chicago reels, some are eager to blame first year Coach Fred Hoiberg, and he can certainly take a share of the blame. But sweet fancy Moses is this team injury-prone. The Bulls employ Derrick Rose, so injuries are nothing new to them, but their roster has been decimated this season. They surprisingly stayed quiet on deadline day as well, so even with Jimmy Butler (knee), Nikola Mirotic (appendectomy, hematoma) and Joakim Noah (shoulder - out for the season) on the shelf, no reinforcements are coming. The only move the Bulls made actually subtracted a player, as they sent Kirk Hinrich to the Hawks in a money-saving move.
It's hard to predict exactly what kind of game the Bulls will play tonight, as their cumulative stats are a mish accumulated by a walking MASH unit. See what I did there? Mish-mash! Get it?
OK fine, here are your keys to the game.
The Butler Did It
I had a note here that said 'Stop Jimmy Butler'. Done and done!
Butler actually had one of his worst games of the season in the teams first meeting, scoring just 5 points in nearly 36 minutes of floor time. However, we all know how the second game went; Butler was invisible in the first half and then went supernova, dropping 40 points in the second half and leading the Bulls to a comeback two point victory.
A Jimmy Butler stat line of 0/0/0 is a definite plus for the Raptors chances.
I had another note here that read 'Stop Pau Gasol'. Insightful, I know.
This one will be a taller task, no pun intended. The 7-foot Spaniard has dropped a 20.5/10.0/4.5 line on the Raps so far this season, with seven total blocks. Pau is exactly the kind of skilled big the Raptors struggle to defend, and I imagine tomorrow night will be no different. To be fair, the entire NBA has struggled to defend Pau for about 13 years. However, tonight could be a preview of the first round of the playoffs, and if Pau has been a thorn through two games, imagine how he'll look spread out over seven. A next step in the development of Jonas Valanciunas is to be able to effectively limit players of this ilk; this game is a big test for him on the defensive end.
Down at the bar I met an Argentine, with floppy hair and a touch so fine, oh my Scola. Sco-Sco-Sco-Sco-Scola
That was to be sung to the tune of Lola, by the Kinks. Or Yoda, by Weird Al Yankovic, if you're so inclined. And if you are, we just became best friends. I'll meet you at 4 for karate in the garage.
ANYWAY, a common positive factor in both previous meetings between these two squads was the play of one Luis Alberto Scola Balvoa. In the December 28th game, he played a hair under 28 minutes, scoring 13 points, adding 8 boards and a pair of blocks, and finished with a tidy +6 rating. A week later, in a nearly identical amount of time, he scored 22 points, grabbed 5 boards, tossing in a pair each of threes, assists and steals for good measure.
With all the uproar about the Raptors not having a complete player at the four, it sure would be nice if Luis came out and had a good game to kick off the second half, wouldn't it? It won't ultimately distract from his limited defense, but what's NBA fandom if not constantly searching for rainbows after thunderstorms?
Everybody stretch, it's time to make a run.
Where to Watch: 8pm, TSN