Let’s hope the Toronto Raptors put in more effort on Wednesday night than I did for this pre-game. The Raptors, coming off an emphatic victory over the Wizards on Tuesday, host the Chicago Bulls at 7 p.m. on TSN2. The Raptors are 2-1 against the Bulls on the season and 2-0 since the Rudy Gay trade but they’re yet to face the “new” Bulls, who refuse to die despite having no Derrick Rose and no Luol Deng. So it’s another chance for the Raptors to prove they fear no team in the first round (except for the Bobcats):

To help us set the stage for this one, I hit up my pal and Bulls fan Rick Kraetsch, who has a fantastic Tope Con Hilo. You can find rich writing at Hickory High hosting The Bulls vs. Blazers Podcast there, and writing/editing/podcasting at Voices of Wrestling.

1. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Bulls are two games over .500 despite losing Derrick Rose for the season and trading Luol Deng. Tom Thibodeau and Joakim Noah simply refuse to let this team slide, which is, in the short-term, awesome to watch but, in the long-term, probably a net-negative for the franchise. Where do you land on what the goal should be for 2013-14?

I’ve always been one to avoid NBA Hell, in this case, a team like the current Chicago Bulls, good enough to make the playoffs with a relatively high seed but not good enough to win the title. The only result is a few fun playoff games, a bad draft pick and the stagnation of your roster and talent.

Personally, I thought the goal this year was to get under the luxury tax and create a roster with more flexibility going into the offseason where you can bring Nikola Mirotic over, amnesty Carlos Boozer, have flexibility to add a free agent, draft someone in the lottery and plug Derrick Rose back into the lineup. A few of those things have been met but a few are looking like longshots. The Bulls were able to get under the luxury tax with the Luol Deng trade which I thought was a great move all-around, all signs point to Mirotic coming over and Boozer being amnestied and while there’s some flexibility in free agency, the lottery pick is not happening.

A part of me is upset because the goal should have been easy – just get bad enough – but the larger part of me realizes A) Tom Thibodeau is the Bulls head coach and B) it’s REALLY hard to intentionally be bad in the Eastern Conference this season. Even if the Bulls stripped this team down to the bare bones (which, I mean, essentially it has), Thibs is going to grind these guys to at least a mid-level record in the conference. We should’ve seen it coming when he took a largely Rose-less Bulls team to the top record in the Eastern Conference two years ago.

2. The trade deadline is Thursday. If you could make one deal for the Bulls, what would it be?

The number one move I’d look to make is send Mike Dunlevay off for an expiring contract or draft picks. Obviously, draft picks aren’t going to be a top pick in this draft but I’d even settle for last first-rounders given the Bulls success with those as of late.

Dunleavy is owed $3 million next year and it’s not a huge chunk of change, but removing his contract from the $63+ million obligations for next season could go a long way in bringing in a bigger free agent name.

Outside of Dunleavy, the only guys signed through this season are Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Carlos Boozer (likely amnestied), Tony Snell and Jimmy Butler. Dunleavy doesn’t fit into that group. You could argue his worth is relative to what they’ll pay him and a free agent of his caliber would likely cost that much but I’d still rather take my chance on the open market and free up that space.

3. I am officially challenging D.J. Augustin to a match at Wrestlemania. What stipulation would you like to see us wrestle under?

Oh man, the perverse me wants to see a good old-fashioned Exploding Pool Death Match (no, seriously, that was a thing). The answer is obvious though, a Flag Match.

Augustin had a terrible tenure in Canada, he’s from the U.S. of A, he’s finally resurrected his career on home soil and you love snow, maple syrup, beer and hockey, you’re Canada through and through, he’s an All-American. That match writes itself.

4. Along with other things they do well, the Bulls are among the class of the league when it comes to keeping teams off the stripe and off the offensive glass. They also force an above-average amount of turnovers. Basically, Thibodeau’s system doesn’t allow for anything free, and you can’t score at the basket either. Even just watching, it’s tough to get a feel for how to score on these guys. If there’s anything the Raptors can do to carve out some offense, what is it?

Man, there is no way. That’s what’s amazing. Somehow, someway, Bulls defense has improved as the season has gone on and the newly acquired guys have continued to buy into the Thibs’ system. There were things that worked at the beginning of the season (corner threes, mid-range) that no longer work. Guys know where to be, how to rotate, how to work together, where to send guys and it’s resulted in the 2nd best Defensive Efficiency in the league since January.

The only spot they allow consistent production (bottom-half of the league) from is at-the-rim, so perhaps the Raptors can just shove it down their throats all game but Thibs and the Bulls make it hard to even get there.

You’re on your own with this. I guess the Raptors’ best defense is not allowing the Bulls to score above 85? That’s actually a lot easier, do that.

Breakdown
Vegas says: Raptors -3 with 60 percent of the action on the home team. The public is split down the middle on the 182 over/under.
Hollinger says: Raptors -7.
Alkaline Trio says: Please don’t say you won’t

Blake says: It’s not going to be pretty, but the Raptors should be able to grind this one out. Go back up and look at the tweet I embedded of the highly-fashionable notepad screen grab. The Raptors have made a living beating teams just below them in the standings, and that’s something I’m confident in them continuing. They better not get out to a deficit, though, because you’re not tearing off a big run against this Bulls team. Lock down from the start, don’t get away from the offensive gameplan if it’s not working early and get ready to grind. Raptors by eight.

Unless Carlos Boozer’s defense has something to say about it:

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