Keys to the Game: Bulls at Raptors (10.08.22)

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The Bulls visit the Great White North this evening to meet up with the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena for their third of four preseason contests. Chicago looks to keep rolling after a 131-113 thumping of the Denver Nuggets at the United Center Friday night, while the Raptors hit the hardwood coming off a 116-100 loss to the Rockets in Houston. Chicago sports a 1-1 mark on the preseason, while Toronto sits 2-1.

Here are a few things to keep an eye on this evening against the Raptors (5 pm CST tipoff – NBC Sports Chicago):

In a somewhat surprise move, if there’s such a thing as a surprise in the preseason, Bulls Head Coach Billy Donovan didn’t swap starting point guards the other night against Denver, but instead slid Javonte Green in with the first team and moved Patrick Williams to the second unit. Afterwards Donovan insisted the move wasn’t a demotion for Williams, but more or less his wanting to see different combinations on the floor as he’s employing a true 10-man rotation.

Donovan has openly talked about wanting to speed the Bulls’ offensive pace and also play fast in a halfcourt setting. Over the last couple of seasons Green has proven to be one of Chicago’s best off-the-ball cutters, and his explosive athleticism often ignites a surge of infectious energy throughout the team, and thus he could very well end up playing a major role this season. For the second game in a row, Green was spectacular, finishing with 15 points, five rebounds, two assists and a block, shooting 5-of-7 overall and 3-of-3 from behind the arc.

As for Williams, he got off to a slow start with the Bench Mob but come the third quarter he found his legs and delivered a very solid effort the rest of the game by attacking the rim, drawing a couple of fouls and knocking down a couple of shots, including one from deep to finish with 11 points.

Chicago’s “Big 3” of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vučević so far have looked really good in the preseason. DeRozan especially looks to already be in midseason form after posting 21 points against New Orleans in the opener and 22 against Denver on Friday. The 5-time All-Star has been pump-faking and spinning defenders to no end, drawing fouls and tickling the twine seemingly at will.

After sitting out the second half against the Pelicans, LaVine played 24 minutes against the Nuggets and played facilitator to the hilt, leading the Bulls in assists with six while committing only one turnover. The two-time All-Star looks healthy coming off summer knee surgery and is poised for another big season.

Vučević also looks fresh and powerful down on the block. The 6’11” center hasn’t shied away from inserting himself under the basket and on the glass. Against New Orleans he notched a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds in less than 24 minutes and against Denver the other night, he recorded a 14 and seven game along with four assists.

Toronto is a very unique team in many ways. Nine of their 14 rostered players stand between 6’7-to-6’9. They also aren’t a very good shooting team, yet they still cause problems because they generally don’t turn the ball over and defensively everyone gets after it like a junkyard dog at dinner time.

The Raptors are headlined by reigning Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes, guard Fred VanVeet and forward Pascal Siakam, as well as hardnosed defender Gary Trent Jr. Barnes enjoyed an excellent rookie season in 2021-22, averaging 15.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists while also making his presence felt on defense.  

VanVleet enjoyed a career-year last season, posting 20.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 6.7 assists and knocking home 3.7 three-pointers a game. He also rarely turns the ball over.

Siakam was also very impressive, making Third Team All-NBA and established career highs in rebounds (8.5), assists (5.3) and steals (1.3) while leading the NBA in minutes per game (37.9). He also added 22.8 points on 49/34/75 shooting.


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