The powerful Chicago Bulls invade the Air Canada Centre on Friday night. The Bulls are winless on the road, but have won 2 straight, so one streak(?) or the other will break. The Toronto Raptors return home from a mini road trip with their heads held high following an overtime loss in Houston and a convincing victory over Memphis.
Chicago’s biggest problem (but a pleasant one indeed) is working former MVP Derrick Rose into the lineup following more than a season of knee rehabilitation. Coach Tom Thibodeau has responded to the challenge by “shortening his bench”, as they say in hockey circles, presumably so Rose doesn’t have to cope with too many teammates. The starting five is Rose at the point, Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng as the swingmen, with the energetic Joachim Noah and crafty Carlos Boozer up front. Veterans like Mike Dunleavy, Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson know their roles off the bench, and perform them effectively.
How can Toronto grab a victory? Not easily, but it can be done:
- Run, then run some more. The Bulls are an old team by NBA standards, and have a bunch of players stuck on the bench. If our bevy of young guys can get up and down the floor in a hurry, the effect will be highly positive as the game enters the fourth quarter. We can fatigue them. Of course they could always dust off greybeards like Nazr Mohammed and Mike James to slow us down – or not.
- Keep them outside. Chicago doesn’t score a bunch anyway, and their shooting from distance so far has been dreadful. Their starters have made 12 3-balls. Luol Deng is 1 of 18, and neither Noah nor Boozer have attempted a triple. As a team, they’ve given up twice as many 3-balls as they’ve made.
- Jonas Valanciunas, stay on your feet. Boozer has bedeviled his defenders for years with ball fakes and footwork. If JV doesn’t bite on Boozer’s sleight of hand, Carlos will be left with fadeaway jumpers, to which he’s welcome. JV has struggled to stay in games recently, and is an obvious target of the striped men’s attention. He’s going to have to temper his enthusiasm, box out the Whirling Dervish Noah or the elusive Boozer, and get help from his mates.
The Raps broke a century in scoring for the second time this season against Memphis (doing it in Houston doesn’t count, as it was OT), and won’t make it three against a tough defensive squad like the Bulls. I think this game will go according to script, with the Raps running enough to wear down the Bulls. Toronto will emerge with a 94-91 victory.
We might see: Julyan Stone getting a chance to use his size to guard Derrick Rose…Tyler Hansbrough and Noah receiving simultaneous technical fouls after a boards battle…Raps in 2-3 zone D to force longer shots.
Brian Boake is Senior Editor for Raptors Rapture. “Like” Raptors Rapture on Facebook and follow us on twitter @RaptorsRapture for all the latest news and updates about the best damn NBA team from Canada.
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