Pre-game news & notes: Mirotic plays as Raptors visit Bulls

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The last time the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls met, both teams were in a bit of a different place. The Raptors had recently completed a six-game west-coast road-trip and were looking to gain some momentum and some breathing room above the .500 marker. The Bulls were trying to figure out what the heck they’d do when Nikola Mirotic was back and had to co-exist with Bobby Portis, while also figuring out just how bad they may be in a would-be tanking season.

Things have gone as expected for the Raptors, who are 25-10 after dominating a soft December schedule. The Bulls, meanwhile, spiraled, the narrow loss in Toronto standing as their second in a disastrous 1-15 stretch. Since then, though? The Bulls have been one of the hottest teams in basketball, tearing off a 10-2 run before their recent New Year’s Eve-New Year’s Day two-game losing streak. Chicago gave Toronto a tougher time than they should have back in early November, and as they set to square off again in Chicago on Wednesday, another tight game wouldn’t be nearly as surprising.

This, of course, could bring up the Raptors’ sordid history with the Bulls. Surely, nobody forgets the Raptors dropping 11 consecutive games to the Bulls in ridiculous fashion over the last few years, so while the Raptors have won three in a row in the matchup to maybe put some of the concerns at ease, the guess here is that any Chicago run will be met with a feeling of “here we go again” from at least some fans. That the Bulls are loaded with Gerald Henderson Award candidates is unsettling.

The game tips off at 8 on Sportsnet One and TSN 1050. You can check out the full game preview here.

Raptors updates
With the Raptors back to full health, the updates here could very well be game-to-game matchup calls on the part of Dwane Casey. He opted to keep Norman Powell and Lucas Nogueira out of the rotation on Monday against the Milwaukee Bucks in a very tight game, and while the team didn’t play exceptionally well, it worked – it’s just a little easier to keep nine or 10 guys involved than 11 or 12. Still, there will be nights – back-to-backs, games against lesser opponents, times they want to limit minutes for Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, ineffective nights for young players – where Casey will go deeper. That’s when Powell and Nogueira will have to make their cases, and both will likely factor in at some point again soon. Powell won’t be out long.

Perhaps the more interesting question is who Casey will close with night-to-night. On Monday, it was Fred VanVleet with the starters (in place of Jonas Valanciunas) for the final 12:22 of play. At times, it’s been Valanciunas out there, or C.J. Miles, or Delon Wright, and it hasn’t always included OG Anunoby. We’re talking extremely small samples here, but for the purposes of getting a snapshot of how things have worked out, here’s how the Raptors have played with each player on the floor in “clutch” scenarios (score within five points, last five minutes of the fourth or overtime):

The Raptors’ most-used fourth-quarter lineups have been VanVleet with the starters in Valanciunas’ place (-5.0 in 27min), the all-bench group without Miles (+3.2 in 26min), and the starters with VanVleet in Anunoby’s place (+12.9 in 23min). These are all tiny samples, and odd though it may sound, it could be helpful to be in a few more tight games like Monday to get some more data on how different looks might function in the clutch.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles
PF: Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
OUT: None
TBD: None
905: Alfonzo McKinnie, Malcolm Miller, Bruno Caboclo, Lorenzo Brown

Bulls updates
One of the biggest changes for the Bulls of late has been the play of Nikola Mirotic, who is averaging 18.3 points and 7.3 rebounds while shooting a lights-out 46.6 percent from long range. Somewhat ironically, the play of Bobby Portis has really helped him out (Mirotic’s on-off numbers say so, anyway). Portis has been a major factor in a lot of Chicago’s best lineups, including a trio of bench-heavy groups that have net ratings above +30 in 24-30 minutes together.

The Bulls starters, however, aren’t as strong. Their most commonly used lineup is the one they figure to start here, and they’re a minus-6.3 in 385 minutes. Their next two most commonly used groups – Jerian Grant in for Kris Dunn, and Grant and Paul Zipser in for Dunn and Denzel Valentine – have also been outscored heavily. Fred Hoiberg has done a nice job during this stretch finding new staggered fivesomes that work better together, and it will be interesting to see how he approaches the matchup differently than November, when he didn’t have Mirotic or Zipser available.

Mirotic was upgraded from questionable to probable earlier in the day, by the way, so it doesn’t seem as if his rib/back issue is going to keep him out.

UPDATE: The Bulls never updated Mirotic’s status, but he’s playing.

PG: Kris Dunn, Jerian Grant
SG: Justin Holiday, David Nwaba
SF: Denzel Valentine, Paul Zipser, Quincy Pondexter
PF: Lauri Markannen, Nikola Mirotic
C: Robin Lopez, Bobby Portis
OUT: Zach LaVine, Cameron Payne
TBD: None
Windy City: Ryan Arcidiacono, Antonio Blakeney, Cristiano Felicio


  • Voting for the NBA All-Star Game is now open. You can refresh yourself on the voting procedures here. Make sure to hit that hashtag #NBAVote for DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry (separately – double-player tweets don’t count).
  • Raptors 905 are on the road for games Friday and Sunday while the parent club is on the road elsewhere. Bruno Caboclo, Alfonzo McKinnie, Lorenzo Brown, and Malcolm Miller remain in the G League, as the Raptors have 12 healthy bodies even without them.
  • The updated NBA season prop numbers are showing the Raptors some extra love. Per Bodog, the Raptors have gone from 66-to-1 to 33-to-1 to win the championship since Dec. 1, from 16-to-1 to 15-to-2 to win the Eastern Conference, and from 19-to-4 to 2-to-1 to win the Atlantic Division. They’re still behind the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers, but at least the line is starting to more accurately reflect how well Toronto’s played to date.
  • Shout out to Chuck Swirsky. Also, a nice homecoming here for Fred VanVleet.

The line
The Raptors are 4.5-point favorites with a 216.5 over-under.

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