The 2023 AT&T NBA Play-In Tournament produced two entertaining contests Tuesday night, as the Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Lakers secured their place as the No. 7 seed in their respective conferences. Now we turn the page to the No. 9 seeded Toronto Raptors and the No. 10 seeded Chicago Bulls. Who will win and advance to play the Miami Heat for the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference?
Regular Season Matchups
Bulls at Raptors: 11/6/2022
Result: Raptors 113-104 Bulls
Raptors G Fred VanVleet: 30 points, 9-for-22 shooting, 5-for-13 shooting from three
Bulls F DeMar DeRozan: 20 points, 7-for-9 shooting, five rebounds
Raptors at Bulls: 11/7/2022
Result: Bulls 111-97 Raptors
Bulls G Zach LaVine: 30 points, 11-for-20 shooting, 4-for-8 shooting from three, five assists
Raptors G Fred VanVleet: 27 points, 10-for-19 shooting, 6-for-10 shooting from three
Bulls at Raptors: 2/28/2023
Result: Raptors 104-98 Bulls
Raptors F Pascal Siakam: 20 points, 7-for-18 shooting, eight rebounds, three assists
Bulls C Nikola Vučević: 23 points, 9-for-14 shooting, five rebounds, four assists
Chicago Bulls Season Review:
The Chicago Bulls have underperformed throughout this season, but that does not really come as much of a shock. Once it was known that Lonzo Ball was going to miss the start of the year, expectations took a bit of a drop. After all, the Bulls fell apart in the 2021-22 season when he (Ball) suffered a season-ending knee injury. It was always going to be more of the same in Chicago without their lead guard.
Even with that, the Bulls were supposed to be in the mix for a top six seed, especially in a conference with so many teams trying to create an identity. Unfortunately for them, Chicago got off to a bad start and never really recovered. DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine did what they could to keep the team afloat, which brings us to this point. If the Bulls can win two consecutive games and earn the No. 8 seed in the East, the organization may run it back with this group. If not though, changes will be made in the offseason, both on the coaching staff and the roster.
Toronto Raptors Season Review:
Toronto Raptors were expected to be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, given that they were young and had been the No. 5 seed in the playoffs the year prior. Sure, that first round matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers did not go well, but Toronto had a talented team with some young guys who looked like they were ready to take their game to the next level. Well, the 2022-23 season did not go as planned for these Raptors.
Nick Nurse’s squad hung around .500 for most of the season, yet they were able to do just enough to get into the play-in tournament. Like the Bulls, changes could be made in Toronto if the Raptors are unable to make the playoffs. OG Anunoby was discussed in trade talks all throughout the season, and Pascal Siakam is name that has been floated around as well. It may be a long offseason in Toronto if they fail to beat the Bulls on their home floor.
How Chicago can win:
The Bulls can go out and win this game if DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine are the two best players on the floor. Going on the road in a difficult environment can be daunting, especially when the stakes are higher. That is why Chicago needs to lean on their two best players, but even just two guys who know what it takes to win. Simply, the Bulls will only go as far as DeRozan and LaVine take them.
Nikola Vučević is the biggest x-factor in this matchup for me. The two-time All-Star is more of a finesse big, doing a good amount of his scoring from the perimeter. My only worry is this Raptors team is really physical, and four of their five starters have a ton of length. That could bother Vučević, especially when he is going up against a guy like Jakob Pöltl. If he (Vučević) can give the Bulls 20 and 10, I like their chances in this one.
How much scoring Chicago can get from their bench will be a key as well. Ayo Dosunmu, Alex Caruso and Coby White will need to add some scoring from the second unit, just to take some of the responsibility off the shoulders of DeRozan and LaVine. White and Dosunmu are two young guards who have shown flashes, and Caruso is a guy who plays really hard on both ends of the floor. If that trio can bring something to the table tonight, the Bulls will be in great shape.
How Toronto can win:
The Raptors are going to win this game if they control the tempo, particularly in the half court. Toronto can absolutely lean on their defense if they need to, given how difficult it can be to score against the likes of Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam. Plus, the Raptors are at home, and their fans create an environment that is hard to win in for any road team. All the signs point towards Toronto advancing, but nothing will be handed to them.
Defending DeMar DeRozan without fouling may make the difference between a win and a loss for the Raptors in this one. The Bulls forward not only does a great job of getting himself to the line (7.1 free-throw attempts per game), but he makes them when he gets there (87.2 percent). The Raptors have to stay attached to him at all times, playing defense with a hand in his face on every possession. Otherwise, DeRozan may finish with 30-35 points in a road victory for the Bulls.
Former Duke Blue Devil Gary Trent Jr. is my player to watch for the Raptors. The 24-year-old averaged 17.4 points in 32.1 minutes a night this season, starting 44 games along the way. Trent has always been a guy who can score at all three levels, dating all the way back to his time in Portland. If he can provide some kind of scoring spark off the bench, that could go a long way for the Raptors.
Game Prediction: Toronto Raptors- 112, Chicago Bulls- 107
The Raptors are difficult to beat at Scotiabank Arena (27-14 record at home), but the Bulls have a guy in DeMar DeRozan who has strong ties to the city of Toronto. That certainly makes for an interesting storyline, as someone who spent the first nine years of his career with the Raptors will get a chance to end their season. While I do believe the Bulls have enough to keep the game close, the Raptors just have too much length and athleticism to contain. With the game on the line late in the fourth quarter, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet will hit some big shots to keep Toronto’s season alive.