Toronto (5-4) have one of the best backcourt duos in the country in guards DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, but their transition to new half court offensive sets has been rocky. The Raptors are last in the league in 3-point shooting at 30.5 percent and hit just 5 of 24 from beyond the arc in Sunday night’s 117-106 home loss to the Washington Wizards.
DeRozan had 26 points but went 0 for 5 from deep, dropping to 23.1 percent overall from 3-point range. Lowry should be well-rested after being ejected in the second quarter for arguing with officials Sunday, but he’s hitting at just a 32.7 percent clip after knocking down 41.2 percent of his 3-point shot in 2016/17. C. J. Miles, arguably the team’s best 3-point shooter, has made just 10 of 35 from beyond the arc his last seven games after drilling 6 of 9 in Toronto’s 117-100 season-opening win over Chicago on October 19.
While the Raptors are struggling with one facet of their offensive game, the Bulls (2-6) are struggling offensively as a whole. Chicago rank last in the NBA in scoring at 91.9 points per game and last in shooting at 39.4 percent after a 96-90 home loss in overtime to New Orleans on Saturday night.
Justin Holiday scored 18 points, but the Bulls shot only 35.4 percent, and perhaps the most damning indictment of their offensive struggles is that they have had only three players score over 20 points in a game and none have topped 25. Chicago have not shot better than 47.7 percent in any game this season.
Three keys to the game
To play or not to play Portis - Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg has a quandary on his hands since forward Bobby Portis is eligible to be reinstated after serving his eight-game, team-imposed suspension for punching teammate Nikola Mirotic shortly before the season opener. Their absences have provided the space for Markkanen to make an impact, and while the Bulls aren't in position to turn away NBA-caliber players, how Portis meshes with his teammates and how much playing time Hoiberg will give him are things to watch.
Norman Powell, offensive force - Powell is known for taking the unglamorous role of shutting down the opponent's top scorer. He was put in a bad spot with Lowry's ejection Sunday as Wizards guard Bradley Beal continued his torrid scoring pace with 38 against a host of Raptors defenders. But Powell has made his mark on the offensive end of late, averaging 16.0 points on 58.1 percent shooting in Toronto's last three games. While he's still likely the fifth offensive option in the Raptors' starting five, it's a good problem to have if he can continue to contribute.
Depth could play a role - Miles' strong shooting game to open the season against the Bulls led to what is still Toronto's high-water mark for accuracy from beyond the arc. The Raptors hit 13 of 29 from 3-point range in that game, and he hit three 3-pointers during a game-breaking 20-2 run in the second quarter that Toronto's bench fueled. Toronto have failed to hit 40 percent from 3-point range in their last seven games, and getting Miles back on track could be a key to the Raptors re-discovering their range from deep.
Matchup to watch
Robin Lopez vs Jonas Valanciunas - Valanciunas had 23 points and 15 rebounds in last month's game, and it's been the highlight for the 7-footer this season. He missed three games with an ankle injury and has struggled to regain his rhythm in three games since returning, totaling almost as many personal fouls (14) as points (20) in 54 minutes. Lopez has been Chicago's best inside threat all season, reaching double figures in all eight games, but he's still struggling with the burden of additional shots as the Bulls' go-to player. If Lopez can keep Valanciunas off his game, the Bulls could run an inside-out offense that frees up Markkanen for open looks on the perimeter.
Chicago Bulls projected starting lineup
PG - Jerian Grant | SG - Justin Holiday | C - Robin Lopez | SF - Paul Zipser | PF - Lauri Markkanen
Toronto Raptors projected starting lineup
PG - Kyle Lowry | SG - DeMar DeRozan | C - Jonas Valanciunas | SF - Norman Powell | PF - Serge Ibaka
Despite scoring 12 points against the Bulls last month, Lowry is still a good play given he's averaged 24.4 points and 8.4 assists in his last seven games versus Chicago. DeRozan is also worth a flier despite being held to 11 in that win as he's averaged 24.6 points in his last 10 games against the Bulls and is 80 for 94 from the foul line in that span.
Holiday is a player who can get you points, but he's a high-volume shooter as opposed to an efficient one. He has averaged 12.0 points in his last four games against the Raptors but shot only 38.1 percent. Markkanen might be the better play given there won't be any NBA debut nerves this time around, and the Finnish rookie will be eager to atone for a 2-for-11 effort from beyond the arc against New Orleans on Saturday night.
The Raptors are 11-point favorites this time around after covering a 13.5-point number with relative ease last month. The over/under has dropped six points to 200.5, and even with both teams struggling offensively, that feels like a favorable play considering the over has hit the last five times the teams have played in Toronto and 10 of the last 11 times they've played overall. Chicago's 17-point defeat last month marked the first time in eight games between the teams they have failed to beat the spread, and the Bulls are 13-3 against the spread in the last 16 matchups.
This is a case where the Raptors should use their favorable depth to their advantage, but it's whether coach Dwane Casey can find the right combinations like he did in last month's win that could determine the outcome. Casey struggled with that Sunday against Washington as he scrambled to figure out how to replace the ejected Lowry. Delon Wright has reached double figures in two of his last three games and he had five points and three assists in that game-breaking run in the win over the Bulls and should be used in tandem with Miles.
Hoiberg has his own scrambling to do in Chicago's backcourt because David Nwaba is out with a sprained ankle. He could go in two directions, leaning back on former starter Paul Zipser or taking a chance on Denzel Valentine, the better offensive player of the two who has scored 27 points in his last two games while going 7 of 13 from beyond the arc.
The Raptors should win this going away, but that will only happen if their shots fall early. The Bulls, even with Portis adding to the frontcourt depth, simply don't have the offense to keep up with DeRozan and Lowry, and Toronto should win 114-101.
This game will be televised nationally in Canada on TSN and locally on WGN-TV. Tip-off time is 7:30 pm ET.
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