What better way to spend a Friday night than to watch two teams limp towards the finish line? It’s been a lot of fun to watch Valanciunas as the featured part of the team’s offence lately. Optimism hasn’t played a big role in the 2012-2013 season for the Raptors, but his recent performances have been a genuine source of it. So let’s go ahead and squash any hope of that kind of optimism tonight as Valanciunas will be on suit and tie duty.
With both Terrance Ross and Jonas Valanciunas likely sitting out with injuries, it will be interesting to see how Casey rolls his bench tonight. Heavy minutes and sets have gone to the development of these too, especially Valanciunas. As a result, we’re likely to get a heavy dose of the Quincy Acy show tonight, so set your DVRs to record! (*Sarcasm asterisk: Quincy Acy has actually been surprisingly entertaining and improved at times in recent games, and I’ve enjoyed it. But it’s just not in me to pass up a chance at a cheap joke.) Lowry has looked alternatively on point and disinterested since playoff elimination made the season something of an exercise in vanity. The same can be said of Rudy Gay, who has insisted on dribbling the ball a little bit higher each game for the last 2 weeks. My theory is that he’s playing a game of turnover-chicken with himself as a way of fighting off boredom. I can only hope it’s fun for him, because it hasn’t really gone so well and it isn’t exactly a treat to watch.
The Raptors beat the Bulls in their last meeting on Tuesday. While conventional wisdom tells you to put your money on the much better team (Bulls) beating the team in tank/development/ready for summer mode, I would not be surprised to see the Raptors pull out another sorry looking victory in the form of Tuesdays win.
Chicago has had one of the strangest regular seasons in recent memory. Depending on which night you watch them and which day’s injury report you read, it’s tough to tell whether or not the Bulls are a sleeping giant peaking just at the right time, or a team thats completely and utterly spent, in need of a week’s worth of sleep. In the last few weeks, Chicago has beaten all four of the teams that are ahead of them in the standings. Even more impressive has been their dragon slaying of Miami’s 27 game win streak, followed by vanquishing the Knicks 13 game winning streak last night. However, over that sam stretch of time they’ve also lost games to half-strength Detroit, Toronto, Washington and Sacramento teams.
The reason for Chicago’s over and under performance is head coach Tom Thibodeau. Thibodeau is a great coach. He is a brilliant defensive mind and a great motivator, almost always getting the most from his team. He is also insane and something of a sadist. Thibodeau, whose team spends more time playing at playoff intensity–especially on defence– than any other team in the league, barely ever plays more than 8 players a game, with 40 or more minutes going to Deng, Butler and Noah on most nights. Butler has played a combined 90 minutes in the last 2 games alone! Luol Deng is leading the league in minutes played per game for the second consecutive year. Joakim Noah has played over 40 minutes in 26 different game this year. There was a stretch back in December where he spent less than 30 minutes total on the bench over seven games. Joakim Noah has been playing with plantar fasciitis (also known as turf toe) all season. The only way to heal turf toe is to give it consistent rest. Or, you know, you could play 40 minutes a game through it instead for a fifth place seed and one round of playoffs. It’s not like chronic foot injuries have ever proven to be a bad thing for talented young centres… There is no coach in the league for whom a single regular season victory is worth more to than Tom Thibodeau, and his team’s injury report is the result.
I expected Chicago to start crashing back to Earth a couple of months ago, and it’s a testament to this team’s determination that they’ve stuck around as long as they have. But there is a reason that they’ve had 4-6 players officially listed at ‘day-to-day’ for every single game over the last 6 weeks. The big games where Chicago leaves it all on the floor are impressive exceptions to the rule. Right now, they look a lot like a team of humans whose coach plays them as if they’re robots.
Betting Lines: Toronto -2.5
Thibodeau’s Bulls-bots batteries are dry. I’ll give Chicago the two and a half points and take the Raptors. Noah and Gibson are both likely out for the Bulls, who must be feeling a kind of exhaustion right now that tires me out just thinking about it. Everybody’s favourite Amir Johnson is likely to get big minutes, and without Noah or Gibson, I like his matchup on Boozer. If I’m wrong, it’s likely to be because Nate Robinson continued to do ridiculous Nate Robinson things. He’s done it twice in the last week already, so maybe I’m a fool, but I say anytime you get a chance to bet against a team that’s riding on Nate Robinson’s back, you do it.