TORONTO - The Raptors (4-5) will look to build off their most encouraging outing of the season at the Air Canada Centre Friday when they host the Chicago Bulls (3-3), who are expected to be without their star point guard.
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Derrick Rose, who is nursing a sore right hamstring, is unlikely to play, according to Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. However, that was news to Rose Friday morning.
"They're still leaving it up to me," Rose said prior to his team's shoot-around, refusing to rule himself out. "[I'll] go out there, see how shoot-around goes and if there's any tightness or soreness, there's no point to go out there and play but if I go out there and it loosens up, I think I'll be playing."
The Raptors are returning home after splitting a two-game Western road trip. Following a heartbreaking double-overtime loss in Houston, they bounced back and defeated the Grizzlies, 103-87 on Wednesday. Toronto held Memphis to 43 per cent shooting and forced 19 turnovers, outshooting them 39-17 at the free-throw line.
Coming off an atrocious shooting performance in Monday's loss, Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan were both efficient in Memphis. Gay scored 23 points on 8-of-18 from the field against his former team and DeRozan added 18 points, shooting 7-of-13. It was the first time both players shot over 36 per cent in the same game this season.
Rose sustained his injury on a drive to the basket in the fourth quarter of Chicago's 96-81 win over the Cavaliers Monday. He has sat out of consecutive practices but with the Bulls off since the beginning of the week, the hope was that he would be able to return in Toronto.
"He's a little better," Thibodeau said of the former MVP. "If he can go, we want him to go. If he feels like he can't go, then we don't want him to go."
Regardless of whether or not Rose is able to play, Dwane Casey's game plan remains the same.
"They're going to be the same team," said the Raptors' coach. "They're going to hit you in the mouth, punch you in the gut and just [play] smash mouth basketball whether he plays or not."
Rose is averaging 28.7 points and 10.3 assists in his last three games against the Raptors, but he's missed the last five meetings and hasn't played in Toronto since February of 2011 after sitting out all of last season recovering from knee surgery.
Trends and Tidbits
Both the Raptors and Bulls are among the league's top-five teams in second-chance points. Toronto leads the NBA in that category, averaging 20.2 points off the offensive glass while Chicago ranks fifth with 15.1.
The Raptors are averaging 107.3 points, exceeding the century mark in each of their last three games after scoring just 92.3 in their first six contests. They're 2-1 on the season when scoring 100 or more points after going 16-16 last year. The Bulls are 28th in scoring, totalling just 92.3 points per game.
Over the last three games, the Raptors are averaging 21.3 points off turnovers, while holding opponents to just 12.7 points off their own miscues. Chicago has committed 17.7 turnovers per game, third most in the association.
Toronto hasn't had a record at or above .500 through 10 games since the 2009-10 season, the last year Chris Bosh played for the team.
What to Watch For
Move the ball
For the Raptors, it's pretty simple. Good things happen when they move the ball.
After registering 10 assists in 58 minutes Monday, they totalled 11 in the first half of Wednesday's win. Gay and DeRozan set the tone early in that game looking to get their teammates involved and it was contagious from there. Everyone was getting easier looks and, as a result, they were more efficient as a team, playing their best basketball of the season.
"The Memphis game was one of our [best] moving the ball," Casey said. "We're still trying to get that identity and maintain it, be consistent with it because any time we move the ball and pass the ball, it does create a problem [for the other team].
"Everyday we drill it," he continued. "We talk about it [and] we work on it, so it's nothing new."
Take care of home court
The Raptors happily return home after playing six of their first nine games away from the ACC. Along with Cleveland and Washington, Toronto has played the most road games to start the season.
While the Bulls haven't missed a beat at home, where they're a perfect 3-0, they've struggled on the road to begin the season. They are winless in three games away from Chicago and are giving up 25.4 more points on the road (103.7) than they are at home (78.3). Chicago hasn't started a season 0-4 on the road since 2008-09.
Who to Watch For
The Raptors' bench was outscored by opponent's reserves in each of the first six games but has bested the other team's subs in two of the last three. Ross is largely responsible for that turnaround, leading Toronto's second unit in scoring in each of the last two contests. Over that span, the Raptors' guard averaged 8.5 points and 3.5 rebounds, shooting 7-of-11 from the field.
"It's becoming easier," the sophomore admitted. "Just [playing with more] focus basically. [I'm] playing hard, really just paying attention to detail so I think that's a key thing that's going on with me right now.
Casey has been impressed with Ross' commitment and focus on the defensive end, which has translated to more playing time for the reserve.
"He's athletic enough he can make a mistake and catch up and make up for it," Casey said, calling Ross one of the team's better on-the-ball defenders but pointing to his improving weak-side defence. "You just don't want to make a living on that."
Boozer has quietly gotten off to an excellent start for the Bulls, as Rose continues to experience highs and lows working his way back from the knee injury.
The Bulls' forward is averaging a team-high 18.0 points along with 8.3 rebounds, shooting 60 per cent from the field, good for the third-best percentage in the league.
Boozer has scored 24.5 points and grabbed 11.3 rebounds in his last four games against the Raptors.
Rose is doubtful with a sore right hamstring for Chicago.
Steve Novak, who has been inactive for six of Toronto's first nine games with back tightness, is feeling better and is expected to play Friday.