Do not look up the Raptors-Bulls head-to-head record over the past ten games. Just don't do it. You'll feel bad -- wait, where are you going? No, come back!
I told you. It is grim.
The Raptors have lost to the Bulls eight times out of ten since November 15, 2013. To give that statement some added perspective, Rudy Gay was still in Toronto then. The last two times the Raptors beat the Bulls it was actually during that joyous time, post-Gay, when Toronto was slowly and optimistically rebuilding their entire identity on the fly. It was amazing to watch as the Raptors became winners. The team then lost their next seven games to Chicago.
If you've glanced at the current Eastern Conference standings, you'll notice a curious (and disturbing) thing. First, kaloo kalay, the Raptors are in second. What a time, etc. etc. Second, the team in seventh is those very same Chicago Bulls I was just writing about in terror not even 100 words ago. Yikes.
This Chicago team, on paper, shouldn't be that scary. Derrick Rose is a shell of a shell of a man. Joakim Noah is listed as DNP-Everything Hurts. Jimmy Butler, destroyer of worlds, is out with a strained left knee. Pau Gasol was aired out to dry at the trade deadline, yet remains on the team. Kirk Hinrich was traded away in a cost-cutting move. The Bulls are 27-26 and riding a five-game losing streak. Toronto should be OK.
But ask a Raptor fan if they feel "OK" about playing the Bulls in the first round. Go ahead, ask them.
Tonight's game, even in the regular season, even under such inauspicious conditions, even in the shadow of the All-Star break, feels important.
Go and read Dan Grant's preview and then let's get to it.
Also, there is this:
James Johnson returns to the starting lineup tonight at Chicago. Norm Powell rejoins the second unit. #rtz— RaptorsMR (@RaptorsMR) February 20, 2016