On Raptors HQ’s weekly podcast, ‘The HeadQuarters,’ we play a game we like to call ‘That Random Raptors Game’ for which I force the usually-reluctant co-hosts to guest which players hit the floor for Toronto in a given, obscure game in team history.
Let’s play a round of it now, and take a look at the roster of the last Raptors team to beat the Chicago Bulls.
This 85-79 win took place on on New Year’s Eve 2013 (!!), just the 10 games into the post-Rudy Gay honeymoon that morphed into the multi-year run of success the franchise is still enjoying. It came before Patrick Patterson developed a steady three-point shot and turned into a two-way, plus-minus monster and it pretty obviously pre-dated the Raptors having one of the deadliest benches in the league. Calls for win-now trades to happen weren’t even part of the fan bases’ wildest fantasies.
Things have changed in the three-plus calendar years since. Just five players remain from that iteration of the roster - and those core pieces are now playoff-tested and eyeing far grander things than “being better than the Raptors were with Rudy Gay.”
One thing, of course, has stayed constant over the last 1,103 days: the Raptors can’t beat the goddamned Bulls to save their lives. Nine consecutive times the Raptors have come across the logo featuring the snarling red bull with blood-encrusted horns on their schedule since NYE ‘13. Nine times the Raptors have left an L on the game log. Whether it’s Jimmy Butler literally sending DeMarre Carroll to the operating room, or random Bulls scrubs turning in the games of their lives, Chicago always seems to throw something out there that befuddles the Raptors.
The key to enjoying tonight’s game: go in with lower expectations that you had in sixth-man John Salmons back in the day.
Here’s what to watch for tonight.
The Status of Pat-us
Patrick Patterson has only missed three and a half games since tweaking his knee in the second half against the Suns, but it feels like he’s been sidelined for an eternity.
As it turns out, missing your most reliable front court player, who opens up countless lineup combinations with his malleability, is a significant blow.
Without Patterson, Dwane Casey has been forced to improvise with his rotations, his beloved continuity impossible to achieve. The results have been mixed. Pascal Siakam’s plummeting usefulness (he played just 4 minutes on Thursday after being overextended the previous three nights) has exacerbated the Raptors’ front court thinness to the point where Lucas Nogueira, a traditional centre if there ever was one, started at the four against the Jazz, ending Siakam’s streak of consecutive starts at 34 games.
The twin towers lineup with Nogueira and Jonas Valanciunas has swung back and forth between passable and, well, not-so-passable. In a noisily small 28 minute sample since Patterson went down, Bebe and Valanciunas have posted a reasonable -3.4 NET Rating. Their overlapping presences, however, cause problems for the Raptors drive-and-kick heavy offense. As much as Nogueira might think he can knock down from the mid-range and beyond, opposing defenses are never going to guard him as such. The clutter of two centres creates added obstacles for for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to contend with on their forays to the rim. The new starting lineup isn’t the only reason DeRozan went just 8-of-26 against Utah, but it certainly didn’t help the cause.
Without Patterson, things just seem a little disconnected. If the Raptors can get him suited up tonight ... well ... let’s not get carried away ... the Raptors will still probably lose to the Bulls anyway.
And You Thought DeMar Couldn’t Shoot Threes
If there’s ever been a team that’s unequipped to take advantage of the oft-lackadaisical three-point defense the Raptors play, it’s the 2016-17 Chicago Bulls. Coming into Saturday’s contest, Fred Hoiberg’s team ranks dead last in three point attempts per game (20.2), makes per game (6.3) and percentage (31.2). Of the 14 Bulls to attempt a three this season, just two boast above-average conversion rates: Bobby Portis, who is currently out of the rotation and has attempted just 14 shots from deep, and Doug McDermott who sits a shade under 38 percent on a nice number of attempts this year.
Through the foul-drawing craftiness of Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade, and the relative efficiency of interior threats like Taj Gibson, Robin Lopez and Cristiano Felicio, the Bulls have flirted with league-average offense throughout the year. But if Lowry, Terrence Ross and DeMarre Carroll break loose to knock down some triples, the math equation will quickly become daunting for the Bulls to surmount.
Random Bull Career Night Prediction
You want to know who really stinks? Isaiah Canaan really stinks. This season with Chicago, the guy who was once not good enough to be the point guard on the 76ers is shooting 25.6 percent from deep (on 82 attempts) and just 37.6 percent from the field. He’s sporting a career-worst 8.3 PER and has been so hapless he isn’t even a part of a Bulls back court rotation that features Jerian Grant, Michael-Carter Williams and Rajon freaking Rondo.
For that reason, it is law that he will play 25 minutes against the Raptors tonight (I’m predicting Wade sits this one out), and score 27 points on 7-of-10 shooting from deep, 10-of-16 from the field.
Isaiah Canaan will be the reason the Raptors losing streak against the Bulls extends to 10 games.
Do you have a different prediction?
Where to Watch: TSN @ 8pm EST