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Underdogs? Not so fast: Reliving the Bulls' dominance over the Raptors

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Underdogs? Not so fast: Reliving the Bulls' dominance over the Raptors

Here’s something you’re going to hear quite a bit this season: the Bulls are underdogs tomorrow night. The official start to the rebuild begins as the Bulls travel to Toronto to face the Raptors tomorrow night on NBC Sports Chicago. Pregame Live begins at 6 p.m. with Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill.

The Raptors bring back Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and a host of other talent that helped Toronto earn the No. 3 seed in the East last year. They’ll be there this season, so the Bulls open the season with a daunting opponent. But fear not! The Bulls are underdogs, but there’s no opponent they’ve had more success against the last four seasons than the Raptors. The Bulls have won 11 of their last 12 games against Toronto, including 11 straight victories before last season’s late loss in Toronto.

Take a trip down memory lane and see how they did it, and then check back tomorrow night and see if they can get back to their winning ways against Dwane Casey’s group.

1. Feb. 19, 2014 (94-92)

The streak of 11 straight wins begins with an almost-awful collapse. The Bulls lead by as many as nine in the fourth quarter before a frantic comeback from Lowry and DeRozan, who combined for 14 points in a 4-minute span to pull within two points late. But DeRozan can’t close the deal, missing two shots in the final 3 seconds, securing a Bulls win.

2. Nov. 13, 2014 (100-93)

A back-and-forth first half includes five ties and nine lead changes. Then the Bulls decide in the third quarter they don’t care much for see-saws and take over. They close the quarter on a 17-5 run and lead by double-digits until late in the fourth quarter. The Raptors pull within five in the final minute but five Bulls free throws ice the game. Pau Gasol (27), Jimmy Butler (21) and Derrick Rose (20) combine for 68 points.

3. Dec. 22, 2014 (129-120)

Let’s just cut right to the fourth quarter. That’s when the Bulls erupt for a franchise-record 49 points to take the come-from-behind win. Ironically they miss their first three shots of the period. After that? Tom Thibodeau’s group goes 14-for-17 and also makes 16 free throws. Derrick Rose goes 6-for-6 for 15 points in the stanza. Who said Thibs’ offenses don’t score?

4. Mar. 20, 2015 (108-92)

The two teams enter this late-season matchup just one-half game separating them. But the Bulls make a statement, taking the lead late in the first quarter and holding it the rest of the way. Rookie Nikola Mirotic continues to put a bow on his remarkable month of March, scoring 29 points on 11-for-21 shooting and grabbing 11 rebounds. He even blocks a career-high four shots in the win.

5. Mar. 25, 2015 (116-103)

The Bulls continued pulling away in the East standings less than a week later. Mirotic is solid off the bench, scoring 15 points, but it’s reserve Tony Snell who makes the most noise. He erupts for 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting in just 18 minutes, including nine points in a fourth quarter that sees the Bulls outscore the Raptors 39-21 to secure the win.

6. Dec. 28, 2015 (104-97)

The Bulls’ bench continues to star against the Raptors. This time Snell, Bobby Portis and Aaron Brooks combine for 51 of the Bulls’ 104 points. The five starters score 53 points. The trio of Snell/Portis/Brooks shoots 20 for-37 from the field, outscoring the Raptors’ reserves, 51-27.

7. Jan. 3, 2016 (115-113)

Jimmy Butler struggles in the first half, scoring just two points. But the second half is a different story, to say the very, very, very least. Butler scores a franchise-record 40 points after halftime, leading the Bulls all the way back after they trailed by as many as 14 midway through the third quarter. When you play for the Bulls and accomplish a scoring feat that Michael Jordan never did, that’s says something.

8. Feb. 19, 2016 (116-106)

Doug McDermott can't match Butler’s heroics, but he puts together a career night nonetheless. The sharpshooter goes off for 30 points, making 13 of 17 from the field in 31 minutes. Fourteen of those points came in the fourth quarter, his last coming on a 3-pointer after the Raptors had cut the deficit to just three.

9. Mar. 14, 2016 (109-107)

Dwane Casey begins having nightmares of Doug McDermott (probably). That’s because the Creighton legend goes off once again, scoring 29 points on 9-for-11 shooting and somehow getting to the free throw line eight times. The Bulls nearly collapse (just like their first win in the streak), but DeMar DeRozan is blocked by Jimmy Butler in the closing seconds (just like their first loss of the streak).

10. Jan. 7, 2017 (123-118)

Jimmy Butler lives at the free throw line in the only overtime game of the streak. The Bulls, like plenty of these games, make a wild comeback in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Ratpors 33-21 to force the extra period. Butler plays hero with seven points in overtime, and Jerian Grant ices the game with a pair of free throws.

11. Feb. 14, 2017 (104-95)

The Raptors do not ask Doug McDermott to be their valentine. That’s because he once again goes off, scoring a team-high 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting. Jimmy Butler adds 19 (with 15 coming on free throws) and adds 12 assists and five steals in the wire-to-wire victory.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Injuries continue to plague the Bulls, should the team pursue a trade for John Wall?

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Bulls Talk Podcast: Injuries continue to plague the Bulls, should the team pursue a trade for John Wall?

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, the Athletic’s Bulls beat writer, Darnell Mayberry joins Mark Schanowski to discuss Denzel Valentine’s season-ending ankle injury (2:25) and what to watch for with Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis all scheduled to return to the line-up in the coming weeks.

Should the Bulls pursue a trade for John Wall? (16:00) And, is Charlotte high-scoring point guard Kemba Walker a realistic target in free agency next summer? (13:30)

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Bulls Talk Podcast

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Suns draft history offers cautionary tale for the Bulls

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Suns draft history offers cautionary tale for the Bulls

For those of you advocating the Bulls play another season for draft lottery position, let's take a closer look at Wednesday night's opponent, the Phoenix Suns.

Since the run of playoff teams led by Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire came to an end, the Suns have tried to rebuild through the draft with little success. The organization is hoping winning the 2018 lottery to land 7'1" center Deandre Ayton, then swinging a trade to add Villanova swingman Mikal Bridges will finally be the moves that get the Suns back to being a consistent playoff team in a couple years.

But there are no guarantees.

Here's a look at the players the Suns have selected in the first round since 2011, most of them in the lottery....

2011: Markieff Morris (No.13 overall, later traded to Washington)

2012: Kendall Marshall  (No. 13 overall, out of the league)

2013: Alex Len  (No. 5 overall, never developed, now with Atlanta)

2013: Nemanja Nedovic (No. 30 overall, out of the league)

2014: T.J. Warren  (No. 14 overall, still with Suns as a productive rotation player)

2014: Tyler Ennis  (No. 18 overall, traded to Milwaukee, now out of the league)

2014: Bogdan Bogdanovic (No. 27 overall, traded to Sacramento where he's now a productive rotation player)

2015: Devin Booker (No. 13 overall, this is the Suns' big hit, one of the best young guards in the NBA)

2016: Dragan Bender (No. 4 overall, still with the Suns, but a total bust)

2016: Georgios Papagiannis (No. 13 overall) & Skal Labissiere(No. 28 overall), both traded to Sacramento in a draft day deal for Marquese Chriss (No. 8 overall), who's now with Houston.

2017: Josh Jackson (No. 4 overall, Suns passed on D'Aaron Fox and Lauri Markkanen to take Jackson, who's coming off the bench as a non-shooting athlete)

2018: Deandre Ayton (No. 1 overall, Suns are hoping Ayton and Booker can develop into Shaq-Kobe, Part 2. Not likely.)

2018: Zhaire Smith (No. 16 overall, traded to Philadelphia for Bridges who joins a crowded wing group that includes Warren and free agent addition Trevor Ariza.

Booker is an outstanding shooter and Ayton has all the physical traits to be a dominant NBA center over the next decade, but it could take several years before the Suns become a serious playoff contender in the West. And, it's already been 8 years since Stoudemire left for New York in 2010 free agency.

Most teams that spend the better part of a decade drafting in the lottery do so because they never added quality veterans to the roster or found the right coaches to develop all the young talent on hand.

Sure, the Bulls would be happy to add a Zion Williamson or R.J. Barrett in next year's draft, but they already have enough young players on their roster and would be better served to look for veteran help through trades or free agency. Next summer figures to be a crossroads in the future of the franchise.

But as for Wednesday's game, here's what the Bulls need to do to keep Phoenix from earning its first road win of the season.

1. CONTAIN BOOKER.  The 2018 3 point shooting champ already has a 70 point game on his resume, and he poured in 38 in the Suns' loss at Philadelphia on Monday. Booker has one of the quickest releases in the game, and he's also taken on more ball-handling responsibilities because of the team's shaky point guard situation. The Bulls' big men have to be prepared to offer aggressive help when Booker comes off screens.

2. CONTROL THE BOARDS.  The Bulls had been among the league's best rebounding teams over the last half dozen years, but that's been become an issue this season with so many smaller line-ups on the court. Ayton is still learning the ins and outs of the NBA game, but he could wreak havoc on the offensive boards if the Bulls don't make a focused effort to box him out.

3. ZACH ATTACK.  Let's hope sitting out last Saturday's game against Toronto and a few days of rest will cure what was ailing Zach LaVine. The Bulls' leading scorer said he probably shouldn't have playing last Friday in Milwaukee because of the way he was feeling, and whatever illness he experienced was probably compounded by his heavy work load carrying the Bulls' offense. Hopefully, a re-energized Zach will be ready to attack the paint, and get back to the double digit free throw attempts that marked his early season scoring spree.

Don't forget, you can watch Wednesday's Bulls-Suns game on NBC Sports Chicago and the My Teams by NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 when Kendall Gill, Will Perdue and Stacey King join me for Bulls Pregame Live from the United Center Atrium. Then after the final buzzer, stay tuned for Fred Hoiberg's media session and player reaction from the locker room on Bulls Postgame Live.