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Raptors look to stop slide in Chicago: Preview, start time & more

Toronto looks to stop the bleeding against the Bulls tonight. This might be just he opponent the doctor ordered.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

While a four-game losing streak in the middle of November for a team that started 12-1 wouldn’t be a particularly big deal in the grand scheme of an 82-game schedule, losing four in a row does look kinda bad!

It’s cliché and dismissive of context, but the whole “good teams don’t lose several games in a row” thing makes some sense. In theory, a talented squad with capable coaching should be able to apply its own tourniquet, and stop the bleeding before the loudest and attention-seeking-est sports media mouths start dishing Takes.

After last night’s loss to the Celtics, in which the Raptors simply ran out of bodies to contend with the Celtics’ depth and Kyrie Irving’s unconscious heater, the Raps are now staring down one of those dreaded prolonged skids. Toronto hasn’t lost four-straight since January 2017, during a stretch where plus/minus lord Patrick Patterson’s absence was inexplicably sucking the life out of the team. Weird, I know. Masai Ujiri pulled off the Serge Ibaka deal mere weeks after the slide.

There will be no such bold move on the horizon if the Raptors lose on Saturday night to their one time tormentors, the Chicago Bulls. Toronto is deep, with few holes when at full operating capacity. Ah, but there’s the rub. Toronto could be without up to a third of its roster for the second night of their two time zone back-to-back. Even so, the Raps B-squad boasts more NBA talent than the entirety of Fred Hoiberg’s seedling of a team. There’s a considerably good chance the Raptors will be able to silence the murmurs and stop their losing skid at three.

Where to Watch:

TSN, 8:00pm EST

Lineups:

Toronto — Uhm... let’s wait and see who rests.

Chicago — Cam Payne (lol), Zach LaVine, Justin Holiday, Jabari Parker, Wendell Carter Jr.

Injuries:

Toronto — Norman Powell (out — shoulder), C.J. Miles (out — thigh), OG Anunoby (questionable — wrist)

Chicago — Kris Dunn (out — knee), Lauri Markannen (out — elbow), Bobby Portis (out —knee), Denzel Valentine (out — ankle)

Give Them a Break

It could, and perhaps should be a restful trip to Chicago for a handful of key Raptors; the exact number of which probably depends on how much Nick Nurse cares about the optics of his career-long losing streak extending to four games.

Kawhi Leonard is almost a lock to take a seat. He’s yet to play in both parts of a back-to-back this season, and after a season-high 43 minutes of court time against the Celtics on Friday, this is just about the most obvious Leonard rest opportunity we’ve come across to date. Bet a lot of money on him sitting... if you can bet on that sort of thing.

Then it gets tricky. In a world where Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright were playing to 2017-18 levels, it’d be an easy call to rest Kyle Lowry tonight, too. He’s taken some dings of late, including a stretch late against the Pistons where he carried a notable limp for a few possessions. Lowry’s ability to take knocks and come out scratch-free is incredible, but after 43 minutes of his own against Boston, it might be wise to protect him from himself against a team whose starting point guard is about as good as Toronto’s fourth-stringer.

Serge Ibaka could see the bench, too, after already sitting out earlier this week with a sore knee. He’ll be hard-pressed to top the red jacket and thick-rimmed glasses look he sported Wednesday night, but we’ll await with great anticipation to get a look at his follow-up ensemble.

The decisions on Lowry and Ibaka would be made simpler if the Raptors weren’t walking wounded. Toronto could conceivably be without four of its five rotation wings if OG Anunoby can’t go after his wrist got banged up last night. Nurse is gonna need some warm bodies. Enter the two-way guys, Chris Boucher and Jordan Loyd, who could get some real run for the first time, with or without Lowry and Ibaka.

The Bulls... Stink

Good news for Boucher, who has dominated against G-League competition in early Raptors 905 action — the Bulls, too, are loaded with G-League talent!

If this Chicago season were a carnival attraction, it would be a dunk tank. Zach LaVine brings the dunks, the rest of the roster brings hopes of snagging Zion Williamson with the top pick.

A list of things the Bulls are bad at:

  • Offense — Chicago ranks 28th in offensive efficiency, despite all of their highest-earning players being offense-first guys. “They don’t pay players to play defense,” Jabari Parker famously proclaimed after signing this past summer. Apparently they do pay them to have True Shooting numbers similar to Cam Payne.
  • Defense — The Bulls are 24th in defensive rating, which is actually kind of impressive after you consider quotes like the one above.
  • Rebounding — Chicago currently sits 28th in total rebounding percentage, collecting just 46.9 percent of available boards.
  • Tanking! — This team can’t even take properly! Three of its four wins have come against teams it’s in direct competition with for lottery balls — Cleveland, New York and Atlanta. The other Bulls victim, Charlotte, should be utterly ashamed of itself.

Seriously, the Raptors don’t need Lowry, Leonard or Ibaka. Rest them, please.

Famous LaVine Star

Okay, fine. Zach LaVine is good and cool. Prior to being afflicted by a nasty 9-of-31 shooting spell over the last two games, LaVine was the only player in the league to have scored 20-plus points in every game this season. He is the sole reason the Bulls aren’t dead last in offensive output. A team is never going to, like, win games with LaVine leading the charge on offense, but his production this year at least puts to rest some of the concern that his 4-year/$78 million contract would be a complete albatross deal.

He’s the perfect centerpiece for a tank — not good enough to really affect the win column, but talented and high-flying enough to keep things interesting for a team that might clinch a sub-500 season by Valentine’s Day, and possibly a guy who can fit in on a more serious version of the team in a couple year’s time.

Danny Green will have his work cut out tonight. But if the Raptors want to risk death by... [checks notes] Antonio Blakeney, they should be able to send extra help LaVine’s way.