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Toronto looks to carry momentum against East’s top dog in Chicago: Preview, start time and more

The Raptors face off with the Bulls Wednesday night in DeMar’s second game against his old squad since joining Chicago’s championship-caliber roster. Can the Raptors remind him that the East runs through Toronto?

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Toronto Raptors Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

After last month’s most recent COVID worry-streak left a number of NBA games — including two against the Chicago Bulls — wiped clean from the slate, the league managed to squeeze in a number of back-to-backs for Toronto to replay those three games, versus the Bulls and Magic, which were cancelled.

Toronto faces DeMar DeRozan for the second time this season, with two more matchups incoming. Game One, played all the way back in October, was a loss and it sparked Toronto’s first five-game win streak for the year. In that initial matchup, DeRozan made a couple triples almost to spite Nick Nurse, and it remains one of just a handful of times this season that DeMar has made multiple threes in a game.

The Bulls sat DeMar after an embarrassing 19-point loss to conference bottom-feeder Orlando Magic (this continuity is becoming strange), a game in which DeRozan had to carry nearly the entire team from end to end, scoring 41 of the Bulls’ 95 points. DeRozan has been masterful in his last three games — not to mention anything of how efficient he’s been all season — and with the incoming Toronto matchup, Chicago’s coaching staff decided to rest their star Monday night in their win against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Raptors, meanwhile, are coming off an inspiring victory against the potent, but vulnerable Charlotte Hornets where fans saw Pascal Siakam act as the primary ball-handler (!) and distributor with Fred VanVleet sidelined with knee pain. I’ll just get this out of the way now — all those minutes take a toll, and whether Fred wants to admit it or not, you need to rest.

With Siakam running the show, the Raptors became a pass-happy machine of quick cutting and easy baskets. Pascal signed off with 12 assists to go with his tasty 24 points.


Where to Watch:

Sportsnet, 7 p.m.

Lineups:

Toronto — Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent, OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam

Chicago — Ayo Dosunmu, Zach LaVine, Javonte Green, DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic

Injuries:

Toronto — Khem Birch (nose — OUT), Fred VanVleet (knee — questionable), Goran Dragic (not with team)

Chicago — Lonzo Ball (knee — out), Alex Caruso (wrist — out), Derrick Jones Jr. (finger, knee — out), Patrick Williams (wrist — out)


Toronto’s identity problem

In each of the nearly ten years during Masai Ujiri’s tenure as PBO for the Raptors, we’ve seen proactive transparency year after year in his time with the media. The championship executive is always crystal clear as to what the team either plans to do, or wants to achieve.

Has this season not felt... different?

For the first time in that tenure, fans are oftentimes left scratching their collective heads as to what the team wants to achieve (winning is always number one, I guess) or what they plan to do. While trade deadline conjecture is always going to muddy up the water, can you, dear reader, tell me what you confidently think the Raps plan on doing?

The big problem is the roster makeup. I love the roster — don’t get me wrong — and while we have specific needs that could easily be filled with certain trades, I don’t think the fans have any clue what to do in that remarkable trade machine because we have no idea what the team wants to do.

If the team plans to win, why are the Raps tiring their stars out before the All-Star Break? If the team plans to develop youth then why aren’t they playing, y’know, THE YOUTH? This is an identity problem, if nothing else.

Trade prospects

I want to preface this by saying I am not comparing Myles Turner to Jerome James — I’m comparing the level of interest based on a few key stats that fans are chasing, and the ensuing prices those fans are willing to pay in order to acquire those stats. The Knicks did that when they signed Jerome James away from the Sonics in 2005.

I’ve been perusing the same usual suspects over the last month, and they range from very intriguing (Jakob Poeltl) to Jerome James (Myles Turner) level. A lot of what I cover in this second section is limited to my knowledge of inside the team’s thinking, so you start to see my dilemma in discovering that the Raptors had an identity crisis to resolve.

If Toronto plans on winning, which they appear to want to at least compete, then they have to go after a win-now player. I present to you: Al Horford of the Celtics.

The Raptors acquire two needs in one trade. An Embiid and Giannis stopper, and a bench captain.

All arrows indicate Boston is having a fire-sale. Brad Stevens needs to stake his claim as a top executive in the NBA, and who better to show him the ropes than Masai “Hi, new guy, the bosses can’t see you on the cameras when you’re standing here” Ujiri — a man with a ruthless mean streak when it comes to embarrassing his executive compatriots.

Toronto acquires Al Horford and Kyle Anderson — from Memphis — in exchange for the dead weight of Dragic, Khem Birch at centre and Chris Boucher (who will likely ask for a nice payday at season’s end). Is it counter intuitive to trade two bigs for one? On paper, yes. On the court, Horford slides in as either the starting pivot, or the first player off the bench.

Kyle Anderson, a.k.a Slo-Mo, is a fantastic high-IQ bench leader who can seamlessly slide into the starting lineup when needed. He’s a role player through and through, and finds any way to make his presence a positive. If the Raps can land Horford and an additional wing defender in one trade, without giving up a first round pick, sign me up. We’re trading away a 12-15 million dollar a year check, and Khem Birch. I love Birch, but he’s not the kind of defender Horford is, even as the younger player.

If Toronto reaches the deadline and the team is five games below .500, I have no idea what the Raptors will try to do. IMO, they shouldn’t do anything.

Just play the young guys!