Bulls top new-look Raptors
Nick Turchiaro - USA Today Sports

Bulls top new-look Raptors

by - Senior Writer -

TORONTO - With the NBA trade deadline less than a month away, there are a ton of questions circling the Chicago Bulls (20-23) and their roster. Despite sitting at three games under .500, this team is still in a playoff spot as they would be part of the play-in right now.

When you look at how bad this team started the season, making the postseason would be an accomplishment, but this team had bigger goals in mind than just making the playoffs. Another question the Bulls must address surrounds Zach Lavine, and whether or not he will be part of this roster after the next nine games. It's no secret that when he went down with a foot injury this team played better and they haven't looked the same since his return.

That should be all the Bulls need to get something done, as LaVine and this mix of players don't mesh. Facing off against the new-look Toronto Raptors (16-26), this was a game the Bulls had to have as Toronto was playing without Pascal Siakam, who was traded to Indiana. Even with Siakam and OG Anunoby on different teams, the players the Raptors have brought in to replace them have meshed well with this current group, as the Raptors gave the Bulls all they could handle before Chicago closed things out late 116-110.

Had it not been for an impressive opening quarter that saw the Bulls leading 38-27, things would've been different, as the Raptors gave Chicago fits the rest of the way. Chicago benefitted from some hot outside shooting in the opening 12 minutes as they knocked down four first-quarter triples to get the offense rolling. The funny part was that they made only two triples the rest of the way as Chicago shot 6-24 from a distance on the night.

Despite their horrendous long-range shooting, Chicago continues to play to its strengths as one of the best mid-range shooting teams. Having players like Demar DeRozan helps with that, but Nikola Vucevic is playing his basketball of the season, and ironically, it has come after he returned from an injury.

Vucevic has been the team's best and most consistent player the past two weeks, and with 24 points to lead the Bulls once again while adding 13 rebounds, he continues to be a walking double-double. Joining Vucevic was the mid-range assassin DeRozan as he was playing at his home away from home. Drafted by the Raptors 13 years ago, DeRozan has also played well North of the Border, and with 24 points, that continued to be the case.

No one wishes injuries on anyone, but the LaVine injury was a blessing in disguise for this team. That forced other players to step up, and Coby White was one of those guys. Over the past two months, White has gone from the team's third or fourth option offensively to being the most confident and trusted option on the floor, all while playing a solid PG role.

Sure, he does have some rough games along the way, but with 23 points and eight boards, White continues to do what he needs to do to will the Bulls win. In the fourth quarter, White came up huge as he made several tough shots down the stretch to ensure the Bulls wouldn't let this one get away.

Speaking of LaVine, it was another rough and quiet night for him as he hasn't looked like the same player since returning from his foot injury. LaVine played just 23 minutes on Thursday, scoring eight points before rolling his ankle and being removed from the game. Ironically, his injury awakened the Bulls again, as they looked like a completely different team after he went down.

His absence left a gaping hole in the starting lineup. Still, with Alex Caruso giving Chicago 10 and Ayo Dosunmu picking up 10 points off the bench, the Bulls were able to withstand another Lavine injury. Patrick Williams also returned from his injury to give Chicago 12 points off the bench.

When the season started, everyone knew this would be a transition year for the Raptors as they continued to restructure their roster. Fred VanVleet signed with Houston as a free agent, while Nick Nurse took the Sixer's head coaching job. You then had Anunoby traded to the Knicks and Siakam sent to the Pacers, as this team is a shell of what they once were.

Regardless, there is still plenty of talent on this team, and for whatever reason, the new-look roster fits better than the original roster. Scottie Barnes is now the Raptors go-to option on offense and if Thursday proved anything it would be that he is ready for that role. Barnes led all scorers with 31 points and delivered an all-around outstanding performance.

Acquired in the Anunoby deal were RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley, and both have looked good thus far. Quickley added 12 points on Thursday, but with Barrett adding 17, the former No. 3 pick is happy to be back in his home Nation and seems much more comfortable on the floor.

Toronto also saw Jontay Porter drop 10 points, with the newly acquired Bruce Brown delivering 15 points off the bench for Toronto. The key to the game was how the Bulls defended Gary Trent Jr, holding him to just six points. Trent Jr has emerged as one of the better three-point threats in the NBA, but he looks like an all-star when he plays the Bulls.

After single-handedly keeping Toronto in the game last time out against Chicago, the Bulls came out with the mindset that someone else would have to beat them, and they executed their game plan flawlessly. Chicago returns to action Saturday when they welcome the struggling Memphis Grizzlies to the United Center.

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