Gary Trent Jr., Raptors ready for struggling Bulls
The second leg of a back-to-back opens a three-game road swing for the Toronto Raptors, who visit the Chicago Bulls for an Eastern Conference showdown on Wednesday.
Toronto moved to the right side of .500 on Tuesday with a 125-113 defeat of Charlotte. The win pulled the Raptors out of a dip in which they had lost five of seven.
Gary Trent Jr. led the Raptors with a season-high 32 points and Pascal Siakam approached a triple-double with 24 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds.
Trent scored 13 points in each of his first two games after returning from a six-game absence due to an ankle injury. He made three and four 3-pointers in those two contests, then hit five in his third game back Tuesday.
“It really gives us a lift,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of Trent’s shooting in Tuesday’s postgame press conference. “It gives us such a confident lift all over the place when he can go down there and generate that kind of offense so confidently and so repetitively like that.”
The win over Charlotte came without Fred VanVleet, who was sidelined with swelling in his right knee, and Scottie Barnes, who had a right wrist injury. Nurse said both will travel to Chicago, but Khem Birch is not yet ready to return from a broken nose.
Birch on Tuesday missed his sixth consecutive game due to the injury.
Before its 2-5 stretch ahead of the win against Charlotte, Toronto won a season-best six straight games. The Raptors head into Chicago to face an opponent on a similar trajectory in recent weeks.
The Bulls lost five of their previous six games going into Monday’s visit to Oklahoma City. A 32-19 disparity in the fourth quarter nearly doomed them to their second three-game losing skid in as many weeks.
But 23 points from Zach LaVine, playing for the first time since sustaining a left knee injury minutes into the Jan. 14 blowout loss at Golden State, and a career offensive night from Ayo Dosunmu powered Chicago to the win.
Dosunmu scored a career-high 24 points on personal bests of 10 made field goals and four made 3-pointers. The rookie started in the backcourt, with DeMar DeRozan resting after a 41-point performance the day before against Orlando and Lonzo Ball sidelined for the next six to eight weeks due to knee surgery.
“To get this win is big to get back in the right direction,” Dosunmu said. “Anytime you get a win when you’ve been losing close games, that always goes well. To get Zach back and Javonte (Green) back, that is a sign in the right direction, and hopefully we continue this momentum and get back to our winning ways.”
Bulls forward Derrick Jones Jr. has a fractured right index finger and is expected to return in six to eight weeks. He has been out since Jan. 12 with a knee injury.
Before its recent rough stretch, Chicago had surged atop the Eastern Conference on the strength of a nine-game winning streak.
The Bulls averaged 120.2 points per game over their winning streak and never scored fewer than 108 points in any of those outings. In its 10 contests since, Chicago has averaged 106.1 points and failed to score more than 96 in three of them.
Wednesday’s matchup is the first of two in eight days between the two teams, and it’s their third meeting this season. Chicago won 111-108 in Toronto on Oct. 25, behind 26 points from former Raptor DeRozan and 22 points from LaVine.
–Field Level Media