The most interesting potential waiver pick up, Derek Fisher, appears likely to don a Thunder uniform when he clears waivers tonight. Chicago hasn't emerged in the rumor mill with any other notable players either. Though I suppose anything is possible. The most likely scenario is still that Chicago goes with what they have, and I endorse the idea of sticking with the chemistry they've developed all season.
Every year there are waiver guys and a big uproar about whose team improves by grabbing them, and it never really makes any difference whatsoever.
It was reported yesterday that Hamilton can finally lift his arm above his head after his shoulder injury I suppose that's something, but it doesn't sound like a guy about to come back and play in the next two weeks or so. I think the best Chicago can hope for at this point is that he's ready a few games before the playoffs tip off and can work the rust off in the first two rounds.
Derrick Rose will sit out again tonight, and he's said nothing optimistic about his groin injury. So far, it hasn't responded the way he's hoped. Rose hasn't had a groin injury before and was probably overly optimistic about how quickly one heals from a groin pull. As of his last update, he still wasn't running yet. I can't see him coming back prior to the OKC game and even that might be a stretch.
Typically, you hope to have your team fully gel at the end of the season and hit the playoffs running but that won't be the case for Chicago. The best Chicago can hope for is that the rest gets their guys fully healthy and that they have more legs than the teams that didn't have injuries, but it's more likely that they simply fight through the playoffs with guys playing through a lot of pain.
Oh yeah, there's a game tonight
Tonight, the Bulls head to Toronto to take on Raptors team likely fighting harder for a high draft choice than a win. They're presently just a half game ahead of New Jersey for the fourth worst record in the NBA. If the teams work together, but with New Jersey playing Washington tonight, Toronto fans might be salivating at the opportunity to drop into that fourth spot to last spot and add some ping pong balls in the Anthony Davis sweepstakes.
You can't take any opponent lightly, and despite some recent success, the Bulls are a relatively pedestrian team without Rose. John Lucas has pulled rabbits out of their hat, and they've out hustled teams, but Chicago can drop a game to anyone with Rose if their PGs go into a funk.
Given the careers of Watson and Lucas to date, it would not be unusual to have them both hit a rough day on one night and have the whole team offense flounder and score 75 points. Fortunately for Chicago, 75 points might be enough to beat a disinterested Raptors team.
Keys to the game
Crush them on the glass
The biggest potential struggle for the Bulls without Rose is finding ways to score. Without their goto guy to create a quality shot out of nothing, the Bulls offense can stagnate badly. Especially if Watson/Lucas have an off night, and let's face it, these guys aren't career backups due to their tremendous scoring consistency.
Their best hedge to a poor shooting night is to crush the Raptors on the glass. Despite the Raptors ranking third in defensive rebound percentage, Chicago should have a strong quickness advantage against them to pull down offensive rebounds. Meanwhile Toronto is one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the NBA and isn't likely to beat up the Bulls there.
Joakim Noah will likely be matched up against Aaron Gray and while Gray can push him around a bit, Noah should find plenty of seams using his quickness to get in and grab some offensive boards.
Take the air out early
Lousy teams teams playing for ping pong balls typically don't have much fight in them and can check out of a game early. The Bulls need to come out with defensive intensity and let them know from the get go that they aren't winning this game. The players, used to losing, will likely fold quickly afterwards.
However, let them hang around and let the crowd get into it, and the game instead becomes their superbowl. Sure they stink, but if they can deliver one special night by beating the best team in the NBA, then it becomes something special for the franchise if only briefly. Chicago doesn't want to let this team hang around and hope.
Well it should be as simple as controlling turnovers, hitting the glass, playing with standard intensity, and hitting a few shots. The Bulls, even minus Rose, are a much better team than Toronto. Toronto is also playing on a back to back whereas the Bulls are coming off a rest day, and the teams are moving in opposite directions in the standings.
About the only thing working against the Bulls is that they're coming off an emotional win and this could easily be a let down game similar to how they lost to Portland after beating Miami. That said, the Bulls aren't likely to fall into the same trap twice and Portland is a much better team than Toronto.