Pre-Game

Gameday: Raptors at Bulls, Dec. 9

Toronto hasn’t had a lot of back-to-backs this year. There were only 13 sets scheduled in the year, and this run from Philadelphia to Chicago is only the third of the year. As far as difficulty goes, it’s right in the middle. It’s no slog through the Los Angeles juggernauts, but Philadelphia is fantastic and beat Toronto up and down until the fourth quarter. It’s always easier to play the lesser team second, and Chicago definitely qualifies there. That being said, Toronto is 2-3 against teams during either side of a back-to-back this year, with one win already coming against Chicago on a second leg earlier this year. They’re tough games, and fatigue will play a role, especially with Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry so recently returned from injury.

Toronto played maybe its worst game of the year in a recent loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. Despite a late run, in which they forced tons of turnovers, the game was a blowout for much of the second half. The Raptors shot poorly and made questionable decisions on the defensive end. Pascal Siakam faded into obscurity on the offensive end, and the team lost Fred VanVleet to a knee contusion. It was bad.

Fortunately, the Raptors get to to play again on a short turnaround.

The Bulls are not a good team. They have an empty calorie scorer in Zach LaVine, and a few promising young bigs in Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., but most of their players haven’t taken steps forward this year. Though the Bulls were a trendy pick for a low playoff seed, they sit at 8-15, and they’re no better at home than on the road. The Bulls have struggled at both ends of the floor, and they too often settle for low percentage shots on offense. Carter Jr. has probably been the most important player for the Bulls. He’s massive and a good defender, and his finishing and offensive rebounding give the Bulls a weapon offensively that they don’t otherwise have. When Carter Jr. is on the floor, the Bulls have outscored opponents on the year, so there’s some promise at least for Chicago.

With Chicago such a non-threatening team, the focus for the Raptors should be on themselves. After the Philadelphia game, Toronto deserves questions in regards to its offense. They’ve followed a seven-game winning streak with a three-game slide, and Toronto has been missing on both sides of the ball. They’ve wasted plays, which is a sign of lack of focus, and they’ve done a poor job getting Siakam into dynamic advantages against defenders. Too many of his attempts have come via static post-ups or isolations from the top of the key. It’s impossible to pay attention to 82 straight games, but Toronto has taken its foot off the pedal over the past week.

Even more concerning, Toronto’s slide has coincided with Lowry and Ibaka returning. Having two rotation players return to the floor is supposed to help a team, but Toronto has been less focused on defense and less coordinated on offense. Ibaka has struggled since his return, although Lowry has played well. Getting them going against a poor defensive team should be a priority.

It’s most important to get Siakam going. So much rests on his shoulders, on both ends, that if he fades into the background, the Raptors will look discombobulated. Siakam needs to create advantages for this offense and capitalize on them, which is difficult for any player. That he doesn’t have a co-star when he has off nights makes the role even more difficult. It’s a new job for Siakam, and of course there will be steps backwards as he’s developed at such a ridiculous rate. Consistency is always the last step in development, and Siakam will grow into the role. He needs time, and he needs to play some teams that aren’t elite defensive squads, like Miami and Philadelphia. It’s nice, then, that Toronto is playing Chicago.

GAME INFO

Tipoff: 8:00pm EST | TV: Sportsnet One | Radio: SN The Fan 590

RAPTORS UPDATES

Patrick McCaw (knee), Matt Thomas (finger), and Stanley Johnson (groin) are all out. There hasn’t been any news about Fred VanVleet (knee contusion), but apparently per Blake Murphy he bumped his knee against Houston, and nothing showed when they examined it between games. However, it didn’t respond well against Philadelphia so they pulled him. It doesn’t sound serious, but expect him to be doubtful.

PG: Kyle Lowry, Terence Davis II

SG: Norman Powell, Oshae Brissett

SF: OG Anunoby, Malcolm Miller

PF: Pascal Siakam, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

C: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Chris Boucher, Dewan Hernandez

Bulls UPDATES

Thaddeus Young (personal) and Chandler Hutchinson (shoulder) are day-to-day. Cristiano Felicio (wrist) and Otto Porter (foot) are out.

PG: Tomas Satoransky, Koby White, Ryan Arcidiacono

SG: Zach LaVine, Denzel Valentine

SF: Kris Dunn, Shaquille Harrison

PF: Lauri Markkanen

C: Wendell Carter Jr., Luke Kornet, Daniel Gafford

THE LINE

The Raptors are -4.5, which feels extraordinarily low. The over-under is 216.

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