Chicago Bulls (6-2) at Toronto Raptors (7-1)
Air Canada Centre, 8 ET, TNT
Look no further if you’re searching for an early season matchup with incredible playoff importance. Though it is only November, both the Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors are gunning for the top spot in the East and will try to send a message to the rest of the conference with a win tonight.
Chicago’s re-emergence as a top team is not surprising, though their season has been interesting thus far. There have been a few bright spots, such as Jimmy Butler & Pau Gasol, in the midst of their 6-2 start but the return of a healthy starting 5 should do wonders for Tom Thibodeau’s defensive-minded group.
The Bulls will have their full starting lineup of Derrick Rose, Butler, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Gasol and Joakim Noah for just the second time all year long. Rose, in and out of the lineup with nagging ankle injuries, produced an impressive 24-point, 7-assist performance in his last game v. Detroit. For Chicago to remain unbeaten on the road (4-0), Rose, Gasol, and Noah need to set the tone early and score some easy baskets.
Toronto, on the other hand, has capitalized on last year’s nice playoff run and holds the top spot in the East early on. New additions James Johnson and Lou Williams have meshed well with an established core that features All-Star DeMar DeRozan (23 ppg), “All-Most” Star Kyle Lowry (triple-double v. BOS on Nov. 5th), Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas. Coach Dwane Casey’s group is blazing to the best start in franchise history (7-1) and is unbeaten in the Air Canada Centre (5-0).
But the veteran, road-tested Bulls will be the Raptors’ toughest test yet. Ditto for Chicago, who has faced a soft opening schedule aside from LeBron James and the Cavs. This will be a battle that will likely come down to bench production, second-chance points, and rebounding. Look for Chicago’s front court of Taj Gibson, Gasol and Noah to try and impose their will down low.
Expect DeRozan, Lowry, Rose and Gasol to challenge for top D.O.G. honors in a highly contested game with a playoff-like atmosphere.
Derrick Rose: Projected Top D.O.G.
Tale of the Tape:
CHI: 104 points/game TOR: 107 ppg
CHI: 22.6 assists/game TOR: 18.6 apg
CHI: 45.2 rebounds/game TOR: 39.6 rpg
CHI: 14.4 turnovers/game TOR: 11.4 TOs/game
Early on, the Bulls (8th) and Raptors (1st) have had no trouble scoring the ball. This won’t be an easy matchup for Chicago since the Raptors love to keep the pace fast and are excellent at taking care of the ball. If Rose outplays Lowry, or vice versa, that might determine who comes away with the victory.
F Doug McDermott (CHI): Dougie McBuckets has gotten off to a slow start with Chicago in 2014. The high-octane scorer from Creighton is adjusting to a new, bench role on a contending team with a coach who demands defensive intensity. In this contest, however, Dougie should get some nice looks playing off Rose’s dribble penetration and Gibson’s low-post game.
Anticipate 10-12 points and three triples.
G/F Terrence Ross (TOR): T. Ross is looking good to start the season. The high-flying, slam dunk champ is showing a committment to better defense, sharing the ball, and has improved shooting off the dribble. His defense on emerging swingman Jimmy Butler (as well as Dunleavy) will be key, so be sure to pay attention to those two throughout the game. If Ross can knock down shots, Toronto will be in great shape.