This is where the schedule gets scary. The Raptors’ next five games are at Chicago, at Atlanta, at Boston, versus Portland, and at the L.A. Clippers. Fortunately, they’ll have a day off in between each of those games, but all the travel will still take its toll. The Bulls have the league’s best record and are coming off a win in Boston last night. If you’re searching for optimism, then note that all of Chicago’s starters played heavy minutes last night. For Toronto, only Jose Calderon (41 min) and DeMar DeRozan (40 min) played 30+.
I want to give Calderon a hug. After Friday’s matchup with the zippy Darren Collison, he’s looking at the worst matchup imaginable. Derrick Rose killed the Celtics down the stretch last night despite being a game-time decision with a sprained left big toe. It’s not that I think Jerryd Bayless will be able to slow Rose down, but I sincerely hope he returns tonight if only to give Calderon a bit of rest.
You’re all aware that Mike James is the Bulls’ third-string point guard now, right? Just making sure.
DeRozan’s play last night has to be a good sign, even if you wish he was as aggressive for the entire game as he was in the opening quarter. Barbosa continues to fire away, going 9-17 in 24 minutes against Indiana after his 11-18 night in just under 29 minutes against Sacramento. With Kleiza working his way back and Bayless missing in action, I understand Barbosa having the greenest of green lights off the bench.
Richard Hamilton has missed 8 of the Bulls’ last 9 games with a groin strain. In his place, Ronnie Brewer has made an argument that Rip isn’t the best shooting guard on the team. Brewer’s obviously a superior defender, but he’s surprisingly contributing on offense this year and is shooting 7-12 from downtown after going 6-27 in 2010-2011. With DeRozan’s inconsistency, I’d be tempted to give this matchup to Chicago, but he knows how to score against this team.
Luol Deng never gets enough credit. Yeah, his scoring numbers are down this year, but he’s more than capable on the offensive end he’s playing defense just about as well as any small forward in the league. He’s also averaging 39.3 minutes a game, trailing only Monta Ellis and Kevin Love. With the compressed schedule, can Thibodeau keep pushing him like this?
The most intriguing thing about the Raptors’ small forward rotation is how much and how quickly Linas Kleiza can contribute. After the familiar strong first game back from injury against the Kings, he was barely visible against the Pacers. Expectations should be low for at least a few weeks, but perhaps Kleiza can put some points on the board if Deng’s legs are dragging.
Andrea Bargnani is still day-to-day with a strained calf. If he doesn’t play, the Raptors need Ed Davis to contain Carlos Boozer the same way he did David West.
Taj Gibson has actually played lots of fourth quarter minutes over Boozer this year and that shouldn’t surprise you because he’s a starting-caliber player. If Bargnani does go tonight, Gibson’s defense could bother him.
Advantage: Bulls, assuming Bargs is out.
As much as I love Amir Johnson’s effort every night, I can’t give him this matchup. Joakim Noah’s coming off perhaps his best defensive performance of the season last night and Omer Asik is probably the league’s best backup center on the defensive end. Like Gibson, Asik has received plenty of fourth quarter minutes this season. The main reason for the Bulls’ dominance outside of Derrick Rose is the fact that their four-big rotation is so solid.
I wonder if we’ll see 20 minutes of Jamaal Magloire again.
Chicago by 13. Hmm. Can the Raptors do one basket better than the Wizards? Yes. Wait, Derrick Rose didn’t play in that game? No. Take the Bullies if you’re into that sort of thing.