With the 2012-13 NBA regular season coming to a close, the structure of the postseason is beginning to take shape. One of the teams involved in their pursuit of a higher postseason seed are the Chicago Bulls.
The question is, can they overcome the upstart Toronto Raptors to improve their current positioning?
The Bulls enter this game with a record of 43-35 overall and 20-18 on the road. They're coming off a streak-ending win over the New York Knicks, but need another win to overcome the Atlanta Hawks, whom they lead by a half-game for fifth in the East.
As for the Raptors, they've displayed new life since the NBA Trade Deadline and presently rest at 30-48 overall and 18-20 at home. They're coming off of a 101-98 win over the Bulls on April 9.
The question is, will history repeat itself? Or will the Bulls exact a measure of revenge?
Let's find out.
Time: Friday, Apr. 12 at 7 p.m. EDT
TV: WCIU & TSN2
Records: Chicago Bulls (43-35, 20-18 road) at Toronto Raptors (30-48, 18-20 home)
Betting Line: N/A
Chicago Bulls Injury Report
Taj Gibson, Left Knee Sprain, Doubtful
Joakim Noah, Plantar Fasciitis, Doubtful
Toronto Raptors Injury Report
Andrea Bargnani, Strained Right Elbow, Out
Linas Kleiza, Knee Soreness, Out
Terrence Ross, Tweaked Left Ankle, Questionable
Jonas Valanciunas, Flexion Extension Injury in Neck, Questionable
Key Storyline: Postseason Ramifications
Entering this game, the Toronto Raptors have nothing more than pride to play for. Entering this game, they're 30-48, mathematically eliminated from the postseason and are on pace to be without a first-round draft choice.
With that being established, the Chicago Bulls are just a half-game ahead of the Atlanta Hawks for fifth in the Eastern Conference playoff structure.
With a win, the Bulls would go a long way towards protecting their postseason positioning. With a loss, they could fall out of contention for the fifth spot altogether.
This is as big of a must-win as Chicago's had all season.
Key Matchup: Carlos Boozer vs. Amir Johnson
Carlos Boozer is one of the most embattled players in the NBA. Most view him as unworthy of the money he receives, as he simply does not play at the level of the superstars in the NBA.
Or does he?
Thus far in 2012-13, Boozer is sixth in the NBA with 40 double-doubles. He's averaging 16.1 points and 9.5 rebounds for the season, and rests at 18.6 points and 11.9 rebounds over the past 12 games.
Just don't think tor a second that Amir Johnson can't slow him down.
Johnson tallied 13 points and 11 rebounds the last time that these two teams met. This has become what the Raptors expect of Johnson, as he's become a far more complete player than in years past.
Whether or not Johnson gets the best of Boozer could decide this game.
X-Factor: Nate Robinson, Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls have lacked consistent point guard play throughout the duration of the 2012-13 NBA regular season. From Derrick Rose's absence to Kirk Hinrich's injuries, Chicago has struggle at the lead guard position.
If there's been any source of consistent offensive production, however, it's come from Nate Robinson.
Thus far in 2012-13, Robinson is averaging 13.2 points and 4.3 assists on 40.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc. Over his past 16 games, however, Robinson is averaging 19.3 points per game on 52.4 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
That's elite production, folks.
On April 9, Robinson tallied 22 points against the Toronto Raptors. If he produces at the level he's been performing at over the past 16 games, the Bulls might just win their second clash.
After last time, it's clear Chicago will need it.
The Chicago Bulls are in must-win mode as they hold the slightest of an advantage over the Atlanta Hawks for fifth in the Eastern Conference. The Toronto Raptors are fighting for bragging rights and 2013-14 confidence.
Who will win?
It's quite clear who needs this win.
The Bulls have no room for error and they'll perform in a manner that's in accordance to that truth. With this in mind, we can't help but expect Carlos Boozer to pour on the points and find Nate Robinson along the perimeter.
Even as Toronto counters offensively, Chicago is too good of a road team to let this one slip away.
Injuries will play a factor, but the Bulls do have enough depth to get this win. With Robinson stroking it from three, Boozer taking it inside and Luol Deng locking down Rudy Gay, the Bulls will take control late.
That will be enough to sneak out a W.
Chicago Bulls 92, Toronto Raptors 87