The Raptors face a recent nemesis in Chicago tonight. The Bulls are staying afloat because of the play of their veterans, but how long will that continue?
Almost half the NBA is under our belts, yet the Bulls and Raptors have yet to meet. That scheduling quirk ends tonight in Chicago.
The Bulls have taken over the unwanted title from Sacramento of Team Turmoil. To the surprise of no one at all, uncoachable point guard Rajon Rondo has been battling with coach Fred Hoiberg, and has been benched as a result (or as a cause of the dispute, depending on whom you believe).
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The triumphant return of Dwyane Wade to his home town has not been the happy story Bulls fans hoped for. He’s been fine, averaging over 18 points per game, but several young players who were expected to step forward haven’t. Probably the biggest disappointment has been Nikola Mirotic, who came from Europe with the reputation of being a dead-eye shooter from deep, but is connecting at a 31% rate instead. Bobby Portis and Doug McDermott haven’t moved the needle either.
The best Bull by far has been veteran guard Jimmy Butler, a Raptor-killer for years now. I’m reading rumors of him being on the trading block, which if true would be emphatic proof of the Bulls’ plans to rebuild. Their playoff hopes, already tenuous, would be up in smoke with his departure.
The current management team would probably be unemployed in most other cities. Their rebuild-on-the-fly notion isn’t working. The Bulls are a veteran team, which by definition means winning now. How can they possibly believe such a thing?
I predicted they would finish 40-42, and out of the playoffs. So far, so good. However, the Bulls are still a proud and dangerous team. The Raptors have had a miserable team against them lately, having lost the last nine matches.
Keep Butler out of the paint. He scored 40 points in the second half (breaking a Bulls record held by some Jordan guy) in Toronto last season by getting to the rim almost at will. DeMarre Carroll is going to have to be at his best.
Don’t challenge their long balls. Chicago has the poorest 3-point team percentage in the NBA at 31.2. Getting a hand up is fine, defenders, but no more than that, otherwise, you’ll be giving up a drive.
Keep the pressure on their big men. Robin Lopez is a solid defender, but his backup, Cristiano Feliciano, can be exploited. Can Lucas Nogueira make some foul-line jump shots? Let’s find out.
Jan 4, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Dwyane Wade (3) drives to the basket during the second half at Quicken Loans Arena. The Bulls won 106-94. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports