Chicago won their second game in four days on Monday, beating the Magic 105-101. Once again, it was Zach LaVine who came up with some key plays down the stretch to finish with 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists. The win put them two games clear in 12th place in the Eastern Conference standings with a record of 20-36.
The Raptors have now won six games in a row after narrowly escaping their matchup against the Heat with a victory. The 115-112 win came on the back of a big performance from their backcourt, with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combining for 49 points and 12 assists. The win allowed them to maintain their position at the top of the Eastern Conference. They have a record of 40-16, and are a game ahead of the Celtics.
Three keys to the game
Raptors on back-to-backs - The Raptors have played eight back-to-backs this season, and they have split the second leg of them 4-4. In isolation, this is a reasonable record, but for a team which has won 40 of 56 games this season, it is a clear regression. Particularly given this has involved overnight travel, there is no doubt fatigue will be a factor.
LaVine’s form - Zach LaVine has been on fire for the Bulls in the past few games. He has been a primary for reason for their past two victories, coming up with go-ahead baskets in the final moments in both matches. In his past five games, he has averaged 24.8 points and has shot at 46.4% from beyond the arc.
Can Toronto complete the sweep? - This will be the final game of the season series between these Atlantic Division rivals, and Toronto will be looking for a sweep. They have won the games by an average of 10.3 points, and Chicago have been unable to contain their offense; Toronto have averaged 120 points per night in these three games.
Matchup to watch
DeMar DeRozan vs Zach LaVine - As mentioned, LaVine is having one of the best streaks of his young career, and has proven to be a match winner for the Bulls. He is capable of making the game look pretty easy, and in this game he will face one of the best in the league at doing exactly that.
DeRozan has a unique game in today’s NBA, relying largely on mid-rangers, but he makes it work. On the back of a season in which he has scored 24 points on 46.2% shooting and a much improved 3-point stroke, he has been rewarded as a starting All-Star. He certainly has the experience and talent over LaVine, but the young Bull is riding a wave of momentum, and proving difficult to stop.
Chicago Bulls predicted starting lineup
PG - Jerian Grant | SG - Zach LaVine | SF - Justin Holiday | PF - Lauri Markkanen | C - Robin Lopez
Toronto Raptors predicted starting lineup
PG - Kyle Lowry | SG - DeMar DeRozan | SF - OG Anunoby | PF - Serge Ibaka | C - Jonas Valanciunas
DeRozan proved to be a thorn in the Bulls’ side when these two teams last met. In 34 minutes, he connected on 5-of-8 3-pointers on the way to 35 points, six assists and three steals. He has been more efficient from long range against Chicago than any other team in the league barring the Timberwolves, connecting on 40.4% of triples on the way to 20.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.7 steals.
Lowry has played 27 times in his long career against the Bulls, and in these games he has averaged 16.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 6.3 assists, all of which are above his career averages.
The Bulls have been given just a 6.5-point head start in this game, and that won’t be enough. Despite the fact that Toronto are on the second leg of a back-to-back, they should be able to win this one comfortably. The Raptors are capable of putting up big scores, especially against the Bulls, so 6.5 points isn’t a major hurdle for them to overcome.
Toronto will make it seven wins in a row. Chicago have been playing improved basketball, thanks in a large part to the form of LaVine, but they have no motivation to win games, and would not be capable of winning this one regardless.
Valanciunas has shown a propensity to put in big games against the Bulls so far this season, and he will put in a big double-double against Lopez. DeRozan and Lowry will dominate in the backcourt against their much more inexperienced opponents and ultimately lead Toronto to a comfortable victory. The Raptors will maintain their place atop the Eastern Conference standings thanks to a 118-106 win.
The game will be broadcast locally on NBCSCH and Sportsnet One. Tip-off is at 8pm ET.