Gameday: Raptors @ Bulls, Apr. 9

A lottery odds update and kind of a pre-game.

Is there any reason for the Raptors to win this game? No, not really. And it’s semi-important for the Chicago Bulls, as well, so, as is a common story the past few weeks, a win seems unlikely.

Let’s have a look at what each team is focused on heading into Tuesday’s game at 8 p.m. on Sportsnet One.

Raptors – Lottery Odds
The Raptors are 22nd in the NBA with a 29-48 record, tying them with the Washington Wizards for the eighth worst record and thus, the eighth best lottery odds.

Keep in mind that “lottery” means far less than in previous years with the Raptors not owning their pick, while “odds” has become far more important because even tiny shifts in odds could give the Raptors their pick back, if it falls in the top three.

With five games to go, the “best” the Raptors could do is finishing with the fourth worst record, but this seems extremely unlikely. It’s far more likely that the Raptors finish between eighth and tenth in lottery odds, since any team they’re “chasing” will also be losing, both for tanking reasons and because they’re bad.

As a refresher, here are the odds of getting a top-three pick at the three most likely landing spots for the Raptors in terms of overall standings:

23rd – 10%
22nd – 6.1%
21st – 4%

So there’s some serious incentive for the Raptors to try and finish below Minnesota and Washington. I wasn’t a proponent of tanking earlier in the year, but with just five games left and such significant marginal odds for each win and loss now, it certainly doesn’t help to win.

Of course, all of this means little since even in the best case scenario, there’s just a one-in-10 chance the Raptors get a top-three pick. But hey, we’ve gotta hope for something, right?

Raptors – Development
Jonas Valanciunas is the man. While he cooled a bit in that terrible loss to Milwaukee on Saturday, he’s been an absolute treat for about a month now and is the only reason I’m still tuning in for (most) games. I love this kid and can’t wait to see how he’ll look after another summer of development.

Chicago Bulls – Actual Basketball
At 42-34, the Bulls deserve a ton of credit for staying above board with Derrick Rose missing the entire season injured. Add in injuries to Joakim Noah, Richard Hamilton, Taj Gibson and Luol Deng, and it’s a wonder this team has managed a 6-3 record over their past nine. Noah and Deng are questionable for tonight, while Gibson, Hamilton and Rose are out.

The Bulls are an elite defensive outfit, fifth in the league in defensive rating even with all of those bodies in and out of the lineup. Tom Thibodeau deserves some publicity as a Coach of the Year candidate for keeping this Rose-less squad as a power in the East.

In fact, the Bulls are fighting to host a playoff series right now. They trail Brooklyn for the fourth seed by two games with six to play. It seems unlikely but it’s not impossible for the Bulls to pick up those two games (I’m not sure who owns the tiebreaker). They’re also just a game up on Atlanta, and I’d guess that they’d rather play Brooklyn than Indiana (the third seed), so they have the incentive to get wins right now. Which means…

The Picks
Vegas: Bulls -4.5
Hollinger: Bulls -6
Blake: Bulls by 8.

Yup, not happening, folks. Even banged up, the Bulls should be able to take this thing based on motivation alone. If Deng plays, I’d double down, since he will probably do a really good job on Rudy Gay (love Deng). I hope this team gets healthy over the next two weeks because they’re a lot of fun and I don’t want to watch them whimper out in the first round because of injuries.

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