By Frank McLean
Stop me if you herd this one before. Inexplicably, the floundering Chicago Bulls beat the Toronto Raptors in an NBA game. So, what else is new? For the ninth straight meeting between the two clubs Monday night in Toronto, the Bulls edged out the Raptors 109-107, but with the Bulls sliding and the Raptors rising, other than the embarrassment, what does it really matter?
The amazing thing is that when you talked to people who cover the Bulls and are with them on a daily basis before the game they were telling everybody that this would be night Toronto snaps the streak.
They came to this conclusion when looking at the Bulls inactive roster for this one.
Sitting at home in Chicago were Pau Gasol with a knee injury and Joakim Noah with a long term shoulder injury. Veteran Mike Dunleavy had a bad case of the flu and when I saw him in the Bulls locker room prior to game he looked like death warmed over. And Derrick Rose was missing as he is taking his time getting back from a left adductor strain.
It looked like easy pickings, ah not so fast folks.
Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was prophetic earlier in the day when he talked about how the Bulls had won eight in a row prior to Monday’s game.
“We’ve got to figure it out because you don’t want to go 0-for against a team and not find out exactly what it is (that isn’t working). Every time we’ve played them somebody’s come in and had an out-of-body experience, whether it’s (Jimmy) Butler, last game it was (Doug) McDermott (scoring a career high 30), the time before that I think it was (Derrick) Rose or (Tony) Snell or somebody rises up out of the woodwork and has a big night. They have a very talented team, very talented roster and it seems like against us they figure it out and we’ve got to make sure we find out what it is tonight.”
McDermott was the man again scoring 24 points in the first half and finishing up with a game high 29.
Jimmy Butler returned after missing the last three games with a sore left knee, but his presence was desperately needed with the Bulls running out to the court a shorthanded line-up. He only scored 13 points, but with a second left in regulation time he made a huge stop on DeMar DeRozan as he tried to make a layup and send the game into overtime.
The Bulls have now 15 man games lost to injuries and illness. With the win and a Detroit Pistons loss in Washington the Bulls now cling to the eighth and last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. This is why the Bulls are in the bottom half of the standings.
With Derrick Rose broken down again and Joakim Noah’s shoulder still hurting the Bulls need Butler to try and steal a playoff berth.
“Gotta risk it to get the biscuit,’’ Butler said after Monday’s game when asked about playing heavy minutes with the knee the rest of the season. “I gotta do whatever it takes to help my team win. I let the coaches know that. If I’m stepping out on that floor, I’m giving my all for as long as my team needs me.’’
“I think my knee is going to be banged up a little bit,’’ Butler added.“Gotta learn to live with it, get my wind back, get in that gym, get my rhythm back.’’
Rose is taking his time getting back from his injury and with less than 20 games to play in the regular season, if Butler misses any more time with his knee the Bulls will be on the golf course by mid April.
Meanwhile for the NBA Eastern Conference second place Toronto Raptors one thing is certain, they don’t have da Bulls on their schedule for the rest of the regular season and sitting with a 6.5 game lead over the Celtics and Heat with just 16 games left, they can forget about the eighth place Bulls for a while.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.