The Raptors finish up their seven-game home stand on Monday night, with a match up against the reeling Chicago Bulls. Jimmy Butler is listed as questionable for Chicago and will be on a minutes limit if he plays, so Toronto will need to key in on Pau Gasol, just the kind of skilled big man they struggle to defend.
It's weird, because I feel like I just wrote this preview.
Toronto and Chicago played less than a month ago, and many of those same factors still apply to tonight's game.
Here are your keys to the game.
A Tale of Two Teams
Much has been made around these parts about Toronto struggling on defense of late. Poor starts and some inconsistent efforts have been undeniably frustrating to watch, especially since this team was a top 10 defensive team for much of the first half. However, for those anxious to compare the flaws of this Toronto team to those of the past two years, I just don't see it.
I realize that last years iteration especially, was an all-offense/no-defense team, and when fans see things like Toronto being ranked as a bottom five team on defense in the last two months, it brings back ugly memories. They're 21st in Defensive Rating (107.9) since the All-Star break, which is certainly less than ideal.
However, the Raptors are 9-3 since the All-Star game and have posted a +4.6 differential over that span, nearly identical to their full season number. Last seasons Raptors were +3.2 on the season, but struggled to a -0.2 after the break, while posting a 13-16 record. While this years team certainly has flaws, last year the warning signs were grave; this year they're not nearly as damning.
What does this have to do with the Bulls tonight? I'm glad you asked.
An interesting statistic to note since the All-Star break, the Raptors are playing at the slowest pace of any team in the league, averaging just 94.57 possessions per game. When you combine that with the 4th best True Shooting Percentage (57.6) and the 6th best eFG% (52.5) in the NBA, you see a team that recognizes its strengths (getting and making good shots) and limits its exposure to its weaknesses (getting stops in the half court). The latter is further supported by a dedication to taking care of the ball -- Toronto ranks 4th in TO ratio (12.6).
All of this leads to the Raptors having the number one Offensive Rating (112.3) in the entire NBA since the break. Better than Golden State, better than Oklahoma City, better than San Antonio. They've been ruthlessly efficient and elite in their offensive execution. Chicago ranks 21st (102.0) and has a -4.5 differential over the same span. Seems like a recipe for success.
Hey, Can I have Yo' Number?
The thing is, it seemed that way last time these teams played too. Sometimes a team just has your number, whether it's because of individual match-ups, bad luck, injuries or myriad other factors. The bottom line is that Toronto is 0-3 against the Bulls this season and it sure would be nice to get this win before playing five of their next seven games on the road.
If the season ended today, the Bulls would be outside the playoffs looking in. It might serve the Raptors well to help keep them there.
Where to Watch: Sportsnet One, 7:30pm EST