Winning hasn’t always come easy for the Toronto Raptors during the best start in team history, but the obstacles they’re overcoming are testing their mettle for the remainder of a long season.
The Chicago Bulls are getting along just as well despite the day-to-day uncertain status of their star point guard.
Toronto looks to start 6-0 at home for the first time Thursday night as it faces Chicago, which hopes to have Derrick Rose in the lineup for a second consecutive contest.
The Raptors (7-1) have won five straight since falling at Miami on Nov. 2, though two of those required impressive comebacks. They beat Oklahoma City, Washington and Philadelphia by double digits, but came from 16 down in a three-point win over Boston on Nov. 5 and had to rally from 11 points down in the fourth quarter to beat Orlando 104-100 on Tuesday.
All five starters were on the bench when Toronto began the fourth on an 11-0 run. Coach Dwane Casey wasn’t impressed with the overall performance despite the Raptors improving to 5-0 at home for the first time since 2003-04.
”Where we want to go as a team, we can’t be playing like that,” Casey said. ”Orlando outplayed us for three quarters.”
The Raptors’ bench outscored Orlando’s 36-14.
”It was a test of our character and we got the win,” reserve guard Greivis Vasquez said. ”It wasn’t pretty, stars didn’t play the way we wanted them to play, but we got the second unit playing the right way.”
The Bulls’ supporting cast has had to step up at times as well with Rose being bothered by two sprained ankles that have limited him to half of the club’s eight games. Chicago (6-2) has gone 3-1 without Rose, but he was in the lineup Monday and scored 24 points in a season-high 32 minutes of a 102-91 win over Detroit.
Rose said in an interview this week that his decision to sit out games has to do with thinking of his future and not just this season. He’s been a game-time decision since suffering his ankle injuries against Cleveland on Oct. 31.
"Derrick’s a (heck) of a player," said Joakim Noah, who had 13 points, 14 rebounds and six assists. "To have your best player on the court, floor general, means a lot. When he’s out on the court, he demands so much attention it opens up a lot of easy opportunities for everyone else."
Coach Tom Thibodeau for the first time this season was able to use his preferred starting lineup of Rose, Noah, Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol and Mike Dunleavy.
"It was great to have everyone, a full roster on the floor, available and healthy," Gasol said. "Now we’ve just got to keep it that way. It’s great to have (Rose) on the floor. (He’s a) difference maker, gets to the hole. He’s a key player for us."
Rose hasn’t played in any of the Bulls’ last nine meetings with Toronto. The Raptors had won four of the previous five before Chicago won 94-92 on the road Feb. 19 while overcoming 32 from DeMar DeRozan.
DeRozan had 69 points in Toronto’s two losses to the Bulls last season and just 26 in two wins.