The Toronto Raptors have had a challenging season. They’re the only team not playing in their home market, of course, and they got off to a particularly rough 2-8 start. They started slowly turning things around, just in time for injuries to start piling up. And just when they got everyone healthy — they had a full roster last Wednesday for the first time all year — the majority of the coaching staff, as well as Pascal Siakam, were sidelined under the league’s health and safety protocols. Phew!
Their opponent tonight, the Chicago Bulls, had a similarly slow start (4-8) and have also played better since, coming into tonight’s game at 15-17. Of course, for the Raptors, who currently sit at 17-17, a .500 record after 34 games is a disappointment; whereas for the Bulls, who haven’t had a record this good at this point in a season since 2016-17, when they were 16-16 after 32 games, 15-17 is a marked improvement.
That 2016-17 season is also the last time the Bulls beat the Raptors; the Raps have won 12 against Chicago.
Regardless of trends and history though, in this strange season the Raptors and Bulls are both fighting for playoff positioning, and any head-to-head matchup is going to be critical when it comes to seeding.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 7:00 p.m. EST
Toronto — Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Chris Boucher, Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry
Chicago — Patrick Williams, Garrett Temple, Wendell Carter Jr., Zach LaVine, Coby White
Toronto — Pascal Siakam (out - health and safety protocols)
Chicago — Otto Porter Jr. (out - back), Lauri Markkanen (out - right shoulder), Chandler Hutchinson (out - right leg)
Playing Through Adversity
The pandemic has hit just about every team in some for or another. For some teams, it’s players missing games; for others, it’s postponements. For the Raptors, up until now, it had been relocating to Tampa. But now they’re missing six coaches and a player.
It’s not 100 percent confirmed at this point whether or not Nick Nurse and his staff will still be sidelined tonight, but the Toronto Star’s Doug Smith says “league sources say it could be a “couple of weeks” before they are back on the job”, and The Athletic’s Blake Murphy tells us that Sergio Scariolo is already listed as coach for tonight.
Sergio Scariolo is listed as the Raptors coach for tomorrow.— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) February 28, 2021
Siakam, meanwhile, has already been ruled out until after the All-Star break.
Although this is the first time the pandemic has directly affected the Raptors on the court, this is a team used to playing under adverse conditions. They made it through Kawhi Leonard’s load management two years ago, and through a seemingly never-ending slew of injuries last season. They’re not as deep or talented this year, but they’ll survive this mess too.
All-Star Snub or No?
Zach LaVine made his first All-Star team this year. Fred VanVleet… did not! Did LaVine steal Fred’s spot?
While it’s easy to argue that VanVleet was snubbed, it’s much harder to argue that LaVine didn’t deserve the nod. He’s averaging career highs in points (28.7), rebounds (4.5), and assists (5.0), on 52/44/86 shooting splits (those are all career highs too). Fred’s scoring might be up, but his shooting is down a notch — though he makes up for any offensive shortcomings on the defensive end, where LaVine remains below average.
And, since both teams have similar records it really was a toss-up between them; with the superior raw numbers, it’s not surprising to see LaVine get the edge over Freddy. He’s taken his offensive game to a new level and he absolutely deserves his selection.
Besides, his selection gave us this pretty cool moment too:
He thought he was doing a media call.— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) February 24, 2021
But actually, it was @ZachLaVine’s closest family & friends showing him love ❤️ pic.twitter.com/dewcv4XByC
The Raptors and Bulls have both won five of their last seven games, and both teams have two remaining games after this one before the break. Both teams are in the crowded pack of Eastern Conference teams vying to secure playoff position, with seven teams all sitting at 17 losses:
All of which means both teams will be looking to close out the first half of the season strong, to carry something positive into the second half. While I would never expect a late-February game to have a “playoff-like feel,” don’t be surprised if there’s an extra amount of intensity on the floor tonight.