The Chicago Bulls are currently 10th in the Eastern Conference, with the Toronto Raptors two games behind them. In the past, that would seem like a steep climb for either team to get back into the playoff picture, but in today’s NBA, that means the Bulls are in play-in game position and the Raptors still have a chance to catch them. And in this pandemic-centric season, pretty much anything can happen!
But these two teams might have very different goals in mind. The Bulls traded for Nikola Vucevic at the trade deadline, a win-now move for a team desperate to get some postseason experience. The Raptors, despite their desperate need for a centre, did not shore up their front line, and although they’d never admit it, would probably be just fine missing the playoffs and trying their luck in the lottery.
This is the second time I’ve previewed this game — tonight’s game is rescheduled game from February 28. Fingers crossed this one moves forward as planned!
Where to watch:
Network, 7:30 p.m. EST
Toronto — OG Anunoby, Chris Boucher, DeAndre’ Bembry, Gary Trent Jr., Pascal Siakam
Chicago — Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, Tomas Satoransky, Patrick Williams, Thaddeus Young
Toronto — Kyle Lowry (foot – out), Rodney Hood (hip – out), Paul Watson (health and safety protocols – out), Patrick McCaw (knee – out), Fred VanVleet (hip – out), Jalen Harris (hip – out)
Chicago — Zach LaVine (ankle – probable), Coby White (cervical pain – probable), Lauri Markkanen (leg – probable), Garrett Temple (hamstring - OUT)
Battle (lol) of the Bigs
While Raptors fans have been clamouring for big man help since December, the Bulls went out on deadline day and picked up two guys who would have looked really damn good in a Raptors uniform.
Vucevic, of course, is the prime pick-up. In his six games in a Bulls uniform, he’s averaging 23 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and block per game, on 51/36/89 shooting splits. Daniel Theis, acquired from the Celtics, hasn’t been as impactful in his four games, and he’s undersized as a centre. That still doesn’t stop me from being jealous that the Bulls got him for Luke Kornet, aka nothing.
Vucevic has had his struggles against Toronto in the past, and Aron Baynes was halfway-decent earlier in the the season matching up with Vooch as the Raptors picked up two wins against the Magic. It’ll be interesting to see how Vucevic fares in a Bulls uniform. One would think the dynamic scoring of Zach LaVine would help open things up for him (and vice-versa) but both players’ scoring is down since the trade.
The Bulls Need This One
Chicago struggled immediately after the trade deadline, going 0-for-4 on a four game road trip. They’ve since won two straight, but are now in the midst of another four-game road trip (this season is such a joke).
The Bulls haven’t made the postseason since 2016-17, and the Vucevic trade was a clear indicator that management is out of patience: This is a franchise that really wants to get into the playoffs! Going 2-4 since the deadline probably has new GM Arturas Karnisovas sweating a little bit. I’m sure they’d like to avoid the play-in game and jump into sixth place, but despite the middling nature of most of the East, that’s becoming an increasingly difficult ask.
All of which is to say that, although they sit higher in the standings and are in play-in position already, the Bulls are probably the more desperate team tonight. This decimated Raptors team, despite two nice wins earlier this week, well, they’re pretty much toast. I can’t blame them for not exactly getting up for these games in Tampa with half the team on the shelf and the entire crowd cheering for the “road” team.
The Bulls also riding a high off of a stomping of the Pacers, and destroyed the Raptors 118-95 in their March meeting.
Don’t be surprised if the Bulls win this one big too.
All Eyes on OG
Since the trade deadline, OG Anunoby has been asked to pick up more of the offensive load for the Raptors, in addition to his usual defensive load — one which typically involves guarding the best opposing wing player all game and then stopping whoever the biggest threat is in the clutch, whether that’s a point guard, a wing or a centre.
That just makes his expanded offensive game that much more impressive. Since the deadline (excluding the Lakers game, where he was tossed after nine minutes), Anunoby is averaging 18 points and 2.7 assists per game (along with 7 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1 block). He’s only playing one more minute per game than he was pre-deadline, but his usage has jumped from 17% per game to 22%.
It’s another test tonight for OG, as he’ll be tasked with guarding Zach LaVine and continuing to carry a heavy scoring load. All indications so far tell me he’s up for the challenge!