Over the course of their spectacular 44-20 regular season run, the Raptors have crossed off just about everything a fan may have had on his or her regular season to-do list for the team.
Exact revenge on the Wizards for last season's playoff sweep? Check. Improve one of the league's worst defenses? Done. Have the team's two best players take their games to all new heights? You bet. There have been signature wins over excellent teams, steady performances from a bench that was an uncertain commodity before the season, and even Jonas Valanciunas has continued his methodical development process.
There's just one thing left for the Raptors to take care of before the playoffs get started: beat the damned Bulls.
Toronto's 0-3 mark against Chicago is the one aspect of this season that has been truly disappointing. After looking like the better team for the first two contests of the season series, falling only because of some outrageous shot-making and Jimmy Butler being on one for 24 minutes, the Raptors posted a stinker on February 19th; Toronto was outscored 92-71 over the final three quarters of that 116-106 loss to a desperately short-handed Chicago team. It felt like a real step backwards, and acted as a brief moment of affirmation for those who criticized Masai Ujiri for standing pat at the deadline the day before.
A month later though, the Raptors have continued to outclass the non-Cleveland teams in the East while the Bulls have sputtered. Chicago sits a game out of the final playoff spot in the east and are riding a mini two-game losing streak.
Tonight marks the last opportunity for the Raptors to cross a win over the Bulls of their to-do list, and it seems like a perfect opportunity to do so.
Since the Jimmy Butler game (42 pts in Toronto Jan 3), Raptors are 23-6 (15-1 at home), Bulls are 12-20 (have allowed 100+ in 18 of last 19)— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) March 14, 2016
On top of Chicago's listless play, Derrick Rose is out with an adductor strain and Pau Gasol didn't make the trip north of the border due to a knee issue. Jimmy Butler will make his return to the line-up tonight, but it's unclear if he's yet at 100 percent.
Regardless, the Raptors stand as good a chance as they have all season to beat Chicago. A win would do wonders for the team's - and maybe to a greater degree, the fans' - confidence as a potential first round playoff match-up still remains a possibility.
Enjoy the game, read Dan Grant's preview here, and comment away.