As the NBA regular season has reached its’ official close, the Chicago Bulls’ road ahead has been set. Their first task to reaching the NBA Playoffs will be beating the ninth-place Toronto Raptors on the road, where the Bulls lost each of their two meetings this year. While they dropped the season series 2-1, there’s still plenty of hope for a Bulls team that’s 14-9 since the All-Star break and one of the league’s best teams defensively in the 2023 calendar year. Let’s see what the Bulls will need to do to advance in the Play-In Tournament and become the first tenth-seeded team to advance since its’ conception two years ago.
Stars Need To Shine
Toronto opens as a 4.5-point favorite, and ESPN analytics give the Raptors a near 60% chance of victory on Wednesday, but if the Bulls want to pull off the upset, their big three will need to earn their lucrative paychecks. Newly acquired guard Patrick Beverley mirrored this message when asked recently what it will take for a road Bulls’ win later this week.
The combination of LaVine, DeRozan, and Vucevic is a combined -19 over the three games against the Raptors this season. LaVine missed the first matchup between the two but was the driving force in the Bulls’ lone 14-point win against them this season, boasting a 30-point, five-assist, and four three-pointers stat line.
DeRozan has been the main culprit of poor play against his former team this season, and he’s well aware that his play will need to improve if Chicago has any hopes of staying alive in the 2023 postseason. He’s averaged only 14 points per game against the Raptors this season, his worst against any opponent.
“That’s Nick Nurse. I’m going to deal with it. But playing against Nick and those guys, they try to do everything in their power to make sure I don’t beat them.”DeMar DeRozan via @DarnellMayberry on Twitter
Controlling The Boards
The Bulls don’t necessarily need to outrebound the Raptors to win this one, but they’ll need to keep pace and keep them off the offensive glass. Toronto is second in the league in offensive rebounding, mostly due to their incredible size throughout their entire lineup. They’re the fourth tallest team in the NBA, and with the Bulls being bottom three in offensive rebounding and average height, it’ll take a group effort to control the second-chance and fastbreak points that come from crashing the boards. Head coach Billy Donovan is more than familiar with the problems that the Raptors present a smaller Chicago Bulls team.
Their first three meetings were all great examples of this. During the Bulls’ two losses to the Raptors this season, they were outrebounded by 18, including surrendering 42 offensive rebounds compared to 21 of their own. In their lone victory, Chicago grabbed 18 more boards overall and four more offensive rebounds. Donovan’s solution to controlling the glass has often been deploying Andre Drummond more often than not. With his team-leading two offensive rebounds per game and nearly seven rebounds per game in under 14 minutes per contest, be prepared to see a lot of the veteran big man.
The deep ball will be one of the determining factors in the result on Wednesday night. Like many of the longer teams in the NBA, Toronto plays a style of defense that surrenders perimeters shots in exchange for not allowing many paint points to their opposition. The Bulls most recently saw this against Milwaukee earlier this week, where the Bulls shot 11-for-33, including 2-for-15 from LaVine, DeRozan, and Vucevic in the 13-point loss.
Chicago fires the least amount of three-point attempts per game in the league and makes them at a below-league-average rate. Toronto doesn’t shoot them any better but does attempt a higher quantity that could bury the Bulls in a hurry. If this becomes a three-point shooting contest, the Bulls are certainly not confident in their ability to out-shoot any team in the association. Since the All-Star break, Beverley’s addition has created noticeably more catch-and-shoot opportunities, and LaVine and Coby White has taken full advantage. They’ll be the x-factors from deep if Chicago wants to control the pace in this one.
All the talking is done, the schedule is set, and the Bulls know what is at stake and the task at hand. Are you riding with Chicago, or is this a one-and-done capping a miserable 2022-23′ campaign in the Windy City?