The Chicago Bulls aren’t taking their pending Play-In Tournament matchup against the Toronto Raptors lightly.
“I mean that’s Nick Nurse,” Bulls star DeMar DeRozan said via Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic following the Bulls’ regular season-ending win over the Detroit Pistons on April 9. “I mean I’m going to deal with it. I know how to deal with it now. But playing against Nick and playing against those guys, they try to do everything in their power to make sure I don’t beat them.”
In 13 career games against the team that drafted him, DeRozan is averaging 21.5 points, 6.2 assists, and 5.8 rebounds while shooting 53% from the floor, 35% from beyond the arc, and 88.3% from the free-throw line. But, in three matchups against Toronto this season, the six-time All-Star could only muster 14 points, 3.7 assists, and 3.7 boards on similar 53.8% shooting from the floor.
The Bulls went 1-2 against a Raptors team that presents all types of matchup challenges for a maligned Bulls offense.
DeRozan had just 13 points on 5-for-11 shooting in their last matchup on February 28.
“We got a couple days to gameplan [and] put together something,” Derzoan said. But I’m aware of it, for sure. I’m aware of it. For my sake, I definitely have my own theory for how I’m going to deal with it.”
DeRozan isn’t the only one who admits the Raptors present a unique challenge.
Teammate Zach LaVine averaged 23.5 points, 4.0 assists, and 2.5 rebounds with a .531/.385/.889 slash line in the three previous showdowns including 17 points on 6-for-12 shooting (1-for-5 3P) in the last meeting.
“We understand what they do and how Nick makes adjustments and different traps,” LaVine said, per NBC Sports Chicago Bulls insider K.C. Johnson after the Bulls’ win over Detroit. “I think it’s going to be about offensive rebounding, transition. It’s going to be the smaller things to get us over the top.”
A Moment of Reflection for Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan
DeRozan will be fighting for his postseason life against the team that traded him away and immediately went on to win the NBA Finals.
“Full circle moment going back. It’s going to be interesting,” he said, per Johnson. “I’m pretty sure I’ve said a joke about it here and there, just how crazy it’s going to be. The atmosphere is going to feel like it’s an Eastern Conference Finals game, not a play-in game.”
But he and LaVine were also asked to reflect on this past season and what went wrong.
“A lot of resiliency,” LaVine told reporters in another video shared on Twitter by Mayberry. “Having a up-and-down year, starting off slow, me being a little injured and then coming on with my timing, and then with us working ourselves back into it, just give us a chance to go out there and play basketball after 82 games. You don’t take that for granted at the end of the day.”
LaVine made his postseason debut as the Bulls snapped a five-year playoff drought last season but was hobbled by a knee injury that required surgery over the offseason.
He has rounded into form just in time for this push but his team has their work cut out for them.
Bulls Face a Daunting Path to Playoffs
Assuming the Bulls overcome the Raptors, they will face one of the Atlanta Hawks or Miami Heat who faceoff in the 7-9 matchup on April 11. Chicago went 3-0 against Miami but split the four-game regular-season series with Atlanta splitting their home and road games.
The Bulls posted a winning record at home in the United Center this season going 22-19 on the admittedly rocky campaign.
Away from their friendly confines, however, they were almost the exact opposite at 18-23.
There is also history working against the Bulls, however brief, as no 10 seed has ever advanced beyond the Play-In Tournament in the two years of the pseudo-event. But the Bulls, who closed the regular season on a two-game winning streak, have not won more than two games in a row since having their three-game winning streak snapped by the Philadelphia 76ers on March 20.