The Bulls head into the second half of the season in the fourth seed with an eye on the third. The dispatched the 7th and 5th seeds right before the all-star break and get to test themselves against Toronto right after it.
Chicago's 1-2 against their Raptors and picked up the win while Derrick Rose was still playing, and the first two of those games came prior to the Rudy Gay trade which energized the Raptors and bolstered their performance.
In short, Chicago has something to prove here.
It's nice to get a game with something to prove immediately after the all-star break. The team gets a chance to take it in, really focus, and put forth their best effort. Of course, there's always the fear of capturing a quality rhythm after some time off.
The Raptors will face the opposite problem, they're coming off a back to back and will likely come out with timing, but may not have spent as much focus on the game.
Given their back to back is coming off a five day break, I doubt fatigue will play a factor.
Keys to the game
It's been awhile since I felt there was a game worth noting some keys, but I think this one merits it.
Know your personnel
The Raptors shoot more threes per possession than most teams and knock them down at a rate of 36.5%. That said, only Terrance Ross and Kyle Lowry actually knock down more than 32% in terms of guys who get meaningful court time.
That means while the Bulls need to watch out for the three, they really only need to keep an eye on those two guys. If DeMarr DeRozan and Greivis Vasquez are going to jack up threes the law of averages says Chicago can live with it. It's Ross and Lowry who will do the damage.
Toronto's a quality offensive rebounding team, so Chicago needs to secure the defensive glass and prevent second chance points. Watch out for their bigs by the basket and be sure to box out.
The Bulls need to play DeMarr DeRozan to drive. Let him jack up all the jumpers he wants and try and keep him from getting attempts at the rim.
Patience on both ends of the court
Despite being young and athletic, the Raptors play one of the slower brands of basketball in the league, similar to Chicago. The Bulls need to finish out their possessions on both ends of the court and play the full 24 seconds of the shot clock on defense.
The Raptors have one of the better offensive efficiency ratings in the league, they'll get out and run when given the opportunity, but they've been effective scoring in the half court as well.
On offense, the Bulls will need to make sure to use the full clock, move the ball, and let the system do it's work.
Key to the offense
A shooter needs to step up. Sometimes it's Kirk Hinrich, sometimes it's Mike Dunleavy, frequently it's been D.J. Augustin. Whomever it is, the Bulls will need one of their shooters to step up and knock down some threes. Toronto's likely to score plenty of points, and the Bulls will need to score in bunches at times too.
Chicago's offense works much better with some spacing, and if they can get some early shooting out of their perimeter players than guys like Noah, Boozer, and Gibson will have more room to work inside and the passing lanes will be open for the Bulls big men who are all adept passers.
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