The Chicago Bulls have been fading out of the playoff race since trading away Taj Gibson, and now they'll have to finish the season without Dwyane Wade, who is sidelined by an elbow injury.
But as of Monday morning, they were still just a game behind Detroit for eighth place in the East and 2½ games behind Indiana for sixth. If the Bulls can duplicate their performance in Saturday's victory over Utah a few more times, they can at least stay in contention.
Scouting reportBulls vs. Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre, 6 p.m. Tuesday
TV: Comcast SportsNet
Radio: WLS 890-AM
Outlook: The Bulls have a chance to run their inexplicable string of dominance over the Raptors to 12 straight victories. The Bulls have won in Toronto four times during the winning streak, but this is their only visit to Canada this season. Raptors PG Kyle Lowry is out with a wrist injury, but Toronto has gone 8-4 without him. Lowry left the lineup around the same time PF Serge Ibaka arrived in a trade and has averaged 14.2 points in 13 games. SG DeMar DeRozan continues to be Toronto's top scorer at 26.8 ppg. Jimmy Butler has averaged 30.5 points in the two games against the Raptors this season.
Next: Detroit Pistons at the United Center, 7 p.m. Wednesday
-- Mike McGraw
"I think we're more hungry than ever," Michael Carter-Williams said after Monday's practice at the Advocate Center. "It would mean a lot. It's one of our goals; we showed some resiliency through some ups and downs."
There are some must-win games coming up this week if the Bulls are going to stay in the playoff chase. They'll try to beat Toronto on Tuesday for the 12th straight time, then return home to face Detroit on Wednesday.
The Pistons game probably is Must Win No. 1. After hosting Philadelphia on Friday, the Bulls visit Milwaukee on Sunday afternoon. The Bucks are 1½ games ahead of the Bulls.
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg was asked if it's fun being in this position and gave a one-word response, "No."
Obviously, it would be more fun to be 20 games over .500, but Hoiberg meant that he's focused on the daily task of preparing for the next opponent, not appreciating the drama of trying to stay alive in the playoff race.
"You just try to take care of your day and go out there and have good practices when we are able to have that," Hoiberg said. "I think this is the first time in almost three weeks where we've had two days (off) -- a day to give the guys an opportunity to catch their breath a little bit and then bounce back today with a good practice."
The Bulls got off to a slow start against the Jazz, but some of the younger players showed some confidence as the game wore on. Bobby Portis scored a career-high 22 points off the bench, while Carter-Williams and Denzel Valentine had good moments late in the contest.
Hoiberg said he will stick with the same starting lineup in Toronto, with Nikola Mirotic at power forward, Paul Zipser at small forward and Rajon Rondo at point guard. Portis left the starting lineup Saturday and Carter-Williams has been the primary backup at point guard with Cameron Payne nursing a foot injury.
Hoiberg didn't agree with a suggestion the final weeks of the season must be stressful, if they're not fun.
"No, you can't look at it that way. It's all about the preparation," he said. "It's all about hopefully putting in a plan that gives your team a chance to win. It's about buying in. It's about doing the little things; it's about doing the basics.
"I thought that's what we've done really well. You look back at our second half against Washington (on Friday), we did a much better job in transition, we took care of the ball, we rebounded better. Then the Utah game, I thought pretty much in the middle of the first quarter when we had a double-digit deficit all the way through the fourth, we were pretty darn good."
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