Raptors look to end three-game skid against Bulls
CHICAGO -- After starting the season winning 12 of their first 13 games, the Toronto Raptors suddenly find themselves looking mortal.
The Raptors will carry a three-game losing streak into Saturday's road test against the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls, who have struggled throughout the young season, have also lost three straight, but unlike the Raptors, they were never expected to contend for an Eastern Conference title.
Both teams will head into Saturday's game fresh off a Friday defeat.
Toronto (12-4) is coming off a 123-116 overtime loss to the Boston Celtics. Part of the Raptors' recent frustrations have come because they have been unable put teams away late. That was the case on Friday when Toronto held a four-point lead with 90 seconds remaining in regulation. Once the Celtics drew even, the Raptors never recovered and never led in overtime.
Kawhi Leonard, who scored 31 points and had a season-high 15 rebounds to lead Toronto, missed a shot at the buzzer at the end of regulation. The Raptors held a 10-point lead at 78-68 late in the third quarter, but saw that lead disappear before failing again in the closing moments of the fourth quarter when Leonard missed his shot.
"The main thing is we're going to hold it until the very last shot so that nothing bad happens and they can't get a rebound and call a timeout," Raptors coach Nick Nurse told reporters after Friday's loss. "It's just man on man and you hope your guy can make the basket, and we have a lot of faith in him that he can."
Like Toronto, the Bulls have not been able to find ways to win of late. On Friday, the Bulls blew a 22-point lead against the Milwaukee Bucks and ended up dropping a 123-104 decision on the road.
As aggravating as the season has been for an injury-riddled Bulls team, the latest setback was particularly painful.
The Bulls were outscored 46-17 in the third quarter and managed just 41 points in the second half while the Bucks tallied 78 points.
"We're not good enough to just ride that wave right now. So whatever we have to do, we have to fix the droughts. It's unacceptable for us to have a 20-point lead and blow it that fast," guard Zach LaVine told reporters, according to the Chicago Tribune. "It just (stinks), man. We're not getting matched up on defense. We're making mental errors. If the ball is not going in the hoop we still have to play defense and have the energy and mentality that we had when we were making shots. You're not going to make every shot, but you can still have that effort."
The decisive third quarter saw the Bulls shoot a woeful 6 for 23 from the field and 1 for 10 from 3-point range.
But the Bulls -- like the Raptors -- won't have much time to stew about blowing such a sizable lead.
Jabari Parker led the Bulls with 21 points to go along with 15 from LaVine, but the Bulls' defensive breakdowns in the second half proved costly.
"When shots stop falling, we stop communicating and you have those defensive breakdowns," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said, according to the Tribune. "We have gotten better from the beginning of the year. But when they threw that haymaker in the third quarter, we reverted back to that. We stopped communicating. We stopped guarding."