Raptors seek bounce-back effort versus Bulls
TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors lost Friday night and are hoping it was just one of those games.
They will find out Sunday when they host the Chicago Bulls, who won Friday night and hope it was another step in learning how to win.
The Raptors (26-11) are 7-7 in December.
“This is a big boy’s league; these nights happen,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. “We’re not the first team to lose like this. We bounce back. We’ve got a championship-caliber team. We’ll be all right. I think that in my three years here we’ve been blessed to avoid the injury bug so maybe it’s catching up to us at one point.”
The Bulls defeated the Wizards at Washington 101-92 on Friday when Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen, who were obtained when Jimmy Butler was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves, played together for the first time this season because of assorted injuries.
“We’re trying to figure out our spots and when to attack and be aggressive,” said LaVine, who scored 19 of his 24 points in the second half. “There’s one ball out there. We’re all very talented scorers. You’re going to have to sacrifice things here and there. But we’re learning how to win.”
Markkanen had 14 points and 14 rebounds and Dunn had 13 points and eight assists. The Bulls have won three of their past four games.
LaVine and Dunn each took 12 shots and Markkanen took 15.
“At any time, we can all get hot and be the No. 1 option,” LaVine said. “You have to understand that as a player. It’s basketball. You have to recognize the hot man and keep riding it. We’re going to learn to play with each other.”
The Raptors won the first meeting in the four-game season series 122-83 at Chicago on Nov. 17 behind a game-high 18 points from VanVleet. Kawhi Leonard did not play after being used for 43 minutes the night before against the Boston Celtics. Toronto swept the 2017-18 series over Chicago.
Meanwhile, the Raptors figure to shoot better Sunday than they did Friday in Orlando.
Toronto shot 29.5 percent from the field. Their 26.2 percent shooting on two-point attempts was the worst in franchise history. They were 12-for-34 from 3-point range.
“It’s a strange one,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “I think if it started that way you would think ‘oh, you didn’t come ready to play,’ but we were really sharp and moving the ball and popping it around and had a nice lead and probably should have had a bigger lead if we would have made more of our opportunities. And then the thing just turned, and we never really could get stops and we couldn’t finish at the rim very well. Just was a really poor night for all of us.”
Lowry missed four games Dec. 14-21 with a bruised left thigh, returned to play Dec. 22, and has missed the past two games with the back issue.
As a result, VanVleet and Delon Wright have been given more playing time.
“I think they both have gone up a level here,” Nurse said. “It takes a little bit of time to get used to all of a sudden you’re a starter and all of a sudden you’re into a heavy rotation, managing your body. There’s a lot of things that go into that position other than just being a player. There’s a lot of leadership, coverage, morale-boosting, all those things that you have to do as the point guard and I think Fred’s getting a little more used to that with a few more games as a starter under his belt.”