The Bulls begin their unofficial second half of the season north of the border tonight against the Toronto Raptors. You can catch all the action on CSN, beginning at 6 p.m. Then stick with us after the game for Bulls Postgame Live, where Mark Schanowski and Will Perdue will have highlights, analysis and player reaction from the locker room. Here's a look at five storylines for tonight's matchup:
Potential first round matchup?
Odd as that would have been to say at the beginning of the regular season, there's a chance these two teams meet up in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Raptors lead the Atlantic Division by four games over the Brooklyn Nets, and since they won't be catching either the Indiana Pacers or Miami Heat, the Atlantic Division champ will earn the No. 3 seed. The Bulls currently sit fourth in the Eastern Conference, two games ahead of the Atlanta Hawks and 2.5 games ahead of the Washington Wizards. Plenty can change in the final 30 games of the season, where either the Bulls finish sixth in the East or the Raptors fall to the No. 5 seed and the Bulls host them as the No. 4 seed.
Kyle Lowry's uncertain future
Trade talks involving Kyle Lowry to the Knicks or Rajon Rondo to the Raptors are pure speculation at this point, but whatever happens by tomorrow afternoon's trade deadline will say plenty about where general manager Masai Ujiri believes his team is heading. Lowry has been sensational this season, averaging 16.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 7.6 assists and is on the final year of his contract. It's unlikely Toronto moves its star point guard -- they believe they can contend for a division title and a potential playoff run this year -- but there's always a chance tonight is Lowry's final game as a Raptor.
Jimmy Butler gaining momentum
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In 30 games after last year's All-Star break, Jimmy Butler averaged 10.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists while making nearly 48 percent of his 3-point attempts, all better than his pre-All-Star game numbers. Now in the same position, Butler begins the "second half" of his season riding some momentum. In the last nine games before the break, Butler averaged 14.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.0 steals in nearly 42 minutes per game. While his shooting is still down, the Bulls will rely on Butler to be a workhorse the final 30 games of the season.
Back in November, the Bulls went to Toronto and pummeled the Raptors in a 16-point victory. But at the United Center it's been a different story, with the Raptors taking both a 22-point victory and a six-point victory on New Year's Eve on the road in Chicago. It's the only team the Bulls have lost to twice at home this year -- they're 15-10 at the UC -- so Tom Thibodeau's group will be looking to dole out some of its own road punishment tonight.
Noah's career year continues
Anyone doubting Joakim Noah's involvement in a flashy, showboating All-Star Game should go watch the fourth quarter again. The Bulls' center played all 12 minutes, locking down defensively and finishing off a pair of huge dunks to help with the East's comeback victory. Now "Jo" needs to do the same for a Bulls team that many have written off as contenders. They may not have the starpower of Miami or the depth of Indiana, but as long as No. 13 is in the lineup the Bulls have a fighting chance.