Toronto Raptors at Chicago Bulls (-2, 196 o/u)
Two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference will go head-to-head tonight (8:00 PM Eastern) as the Toronto Raptors (19-12, 10-7 Away) visit the United Center in Chicago to face the Bulls (16-12, 11-5 Home).
Chicago limps into tonight’s game, losers of four of the last five. The team earned a hard-fought win over the Thunder (105-96) on Christmas Day, halting a three-game losing streak, but followed that up with a poor defensive effort against the Mavs the next day, falling 118-111.
Derrick Rose (25 points) and Nikola Mirotic (23 points) spearheaded a strong offensive effort for the Bulls, but the team struggled defending the three-ball, allowing Dallas to shoot nearly 50-percent from beyond the arc (16 of 33).
Chicago, which has been one of the best defensive teams in the league the last couple years under Tom Thibodeau, is still struggling to find its identity under first-year head coach Fred Hoiberg. The squad is giving up over 100 points per game and, to make matters worse, will have to forge on without 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah for at least the next couple weeks.
Unlike Chicago, the Raptors enter the post-Christmas slate on a hot-streak, taking three of their last four. The Raps got a season-high 31 assists on Saturday in a 111-90 rout over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Point guard Kyle Lowry didn’t put up eye-popping stats (16 points and nine assists) but did a nice job of taking what the defense gave him.
“They double team a lot with DeMar baseline and myself in the pick-and-roll,” point guard Kyle Lowry told the AP. “So, we had to find ways to get our guys, be decoys tonight.”
With center Jonas Valanciunas (12.7 PPG, 9.3 RPG) sidelined due to a hand injury, leading scorer DeMar DeRozan has picked up the slack, especially of late; the USC product is averaging 27 PPG over the last four. Meanwhile, Bismack Biyombo has done yeoman’s work on the glass, averaging 15.2 rebounds per game over the last six.
Chicago is 6-3 SU in its last nine games at home against Toronto, but just 2-6 ATS in the last eight of those. Take the surging Raptors, who should have Valanciunas back in the lineup, to keep rolling.
Pick: Raptors +2.
(Photo credit: michalkajzerek (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)