It’s crunch time for the Toronto Raptors, and though everyone has been saying that for about a month — it’s ACTUALLY crunch time now. As they welcome the Chicago Bulls to Scotiabank Arena tonight, they sit four games behind the sixth seed in the East. It’s possible for them to bridge the gap... but games like tonight are crucial.
Their next three games are tonight against the Bulls, and then back to back games on the road against Washington. Where do Chicago and Washington sit in the standings? Directly below the Raptors in the 10th and 11th seeds. I’m sure it’s clear how important it is to win against these teams this week.
There is only a little over a month left of the regular season, but the Raptors have showed some signs of hope in the past month. After getting Jakob Poeltl back at the trade deadline, the Raptors are 4-2, one of those losses coming in the absence of Fred VanVleet last week. They have won seven of their last nine games overall.
With Poeltl proving to be a welcome addition to the team, and Fred VanVleet expected to return after being out welcoming his third child (Congrats VanVleet family!!) hopefully the Raptors can get a winning streak back up.
Match up: Toronto Raptors (30-32) vs Chicago Bulls (28-33)
Where to Watch: TSN, 7:30 p.m. EST
Toronto: Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes, O.G. Anunoby, Jakob Poeltl
Chicago: DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic, Patrick Beverley, Alex Caruso, Zach Lavine
Toronto: Otto Porter Jr. (OUT)
Chicago: Goran Dragic (OUT, knee), Javonte Green (OUT, knee), Lonzo Ball (Out, knee)
DeMar DeRozan has two distinct advantages in tonight’s game. First, he’s playing incredible this season. Averaging 25.3 points per game, 4.6 rebounds and 5.1 assists, he was an NBA All-Star, and continues to carry the Chicago Bulls through their season. He’s a killer in the midrange, hard to defend, and can easily rack up 30+ points in a game.
The other distinct advantage DeRozan has walking into an away game in Toronto, is that it’s basically a home game for him. Scotiabank Arena is going to be FULL of DeRozan jerseys tonight, he will get a warm welcome from fans as he usually does, and he’s used to playing on that court. He could easily use that to advantage.
He’ll likely be guarded by O.G. Anunoby, who has proved to be able to defend him well. In his past two games against Toronto, DeRozan has been held to an average of 14.5 points — well below his usual threshold. Anunoby can defend him all over the court, and then there are also VanVleet and Siakam who know his game well enough to be able to help if needed.
The Jakob Poeltl Effect
Watching February Raptors games was a little different from watching Raptors games pre-February... I wonder why. Oh yeah, they have a CENTER now!
There was a visible, tangible shift in this team after getting Poeltl back, and not just because Pascal Siakam is happy his bestie is back. The Raptors has been crushing the offensive glass, getting second opportunities, and focusing more on the pick and roll.
With VanVleet back tonight, expect LOTS of that. His pick and roll chemistry with Poeltl is undeniable — in the last game the two played together, Poeltl scored 30 points and Fred VanVleet recorded 15 assists. Coincidence? Not at all. Expect them to rely on each other a lot tonight.
More of a fun note than anything. Fred VanVleet welcomed his third child this past week. When was the last time VanVleet welcomed a new baby? Right, the 2019 playoffs. He then went on a wild run, helping the franchise get its first ever championship. Impeccable vibes.
The joy of welcoming a new child is undeniable, so let’s see if VanVleet’s excitement results in a stellar return tonight to the basketball court. Congrats again to the whole family!
Catch the Raptors face the Chicago Bulls tonight at 7:30 p.m. EST on TSN.