TORONTO, ON— It has come down to this for the Bulls:  An 8th-place showdown with the Toronto Raptors.  Both teams are tied at the bottom of the NBA Eastern Conference Playoff race at 38-41.  Unfortunately for the Bulls, Toronto is 2-0 against Chicago so far this season and therefore will own the tiebreaker.  If both teams end with identical records then Chicago will be “goin’ fishin'” early.  The Bulls lost 89-99 to the Rapts back in November, and were dealt an embarrassing 78-110 pounding in the United Center at the hands of Toronto, as well – where the infamous moment occurred when Jarrett Jack tied his shoes while all the Bulls stood idly by, instead of going for a steal or tie-up (or, better yet, knocking Jack onto his backside for the blatant back-handed insult).

But, despite the defeats, the Bulls need to kick it into high-gear with Toronto’s star Forward Chris Bosh out of the line-up.  Amir Johnson looked sharp against Atlanta, hitting 8 of his 10 shots.  He helped them cut a 20-point 4th quarter deficit down to 5.  Chicago needs a solid effort to keep Amir Johnson contained.  Bosh may be out of the rotation but if they sleep on Johnson, he will make the Bulls’ defense pay.  He is already a more active defensive player at power forward than Bosh; the last thing the Bulls need is to allow him to fill up the box score.

The key match-up in this game is probably Luol Deng-Hedo Turkoglu.  Deng is going to have to get the ball out of Hedo’s hands and force other players to take long, contested jump shots.  They need to deny the Raptors’ bigs of Bargnani, Johnson, and Turkoglu the ball by getting their hands up in the post out in front, and by forcing them to run high off screens and back-cuts – forcing the Raptors frontline to receive passes as far away from the paint as possible.  Chicago should not put Rose on rookie swingman Demar DeRosan so he can avoid getting into foul trouble.  Instead, Del Negro should run with Hinrich on DeRosan and make him take some difficult shots, while Derrick Rose watches the Toronto 2-punch combo of Jarrett Jack and Jose Calderon on the perimeter.  Rose’s length and quickness on defense is perfect to close out on dangerous 3-point shooters.  Putting up points on Toronto should not be a big problem, but they need to get Deng involved in the scheme early, as he too often seems to go M.I.A. through long stretches of the game.

This game will be played on NBA TV on Sunday at 5:00 PM CT.  It is vital for Chicago’s playoff chances that they win.  Otherwise they would need to count on Toronto losing their last 2 remaining games against Detroit & New York; the Bulls, as well, would then need to win their last 2 games against the Celtics and in Charlotte the day after.

The Bulls will not have a chance at the #1 pick in the off-season due to a technical detail in the John Salmons-Hakim Warrick trade with Milwaukee.  So all of us Bulls fans can rest assured that winning now will not hurt our chances of winning next season.

The Bulls head into Toronto trying to put themselves in the drivers seat to face the upstar Cavs in less than one week.

April 10, 2010

–Rami Abboud

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