Bulls Try to Avenge Loss

The Toronto Raptors have come a long way from the start of the season, and were able to clinch their first division title with some help from the Chicago Bulls.

The Bulls also are playing considerably better then they were at the season's outset and are aiming for one of the top seeds in the Eastern Conference.

These two red-hot teams meet at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday as Chicago tries to avenge a rare loss to the Raptors.

Oddsmakers have made Toronto -2.5 point spread favorites (NBA Odds) for todays game, the over/under has been set at 193 total points (View NBA Sports Books). Our public betting information shows that 74% of bets for this game have been placed on Chicago

+2.5 (View NBA Bet Percentages).

Toronto (43-33) beat Philadelphia 94-85 on Friday, but didn't clinch the Atlantic Division until the Bulls (46-31) defeated New Jersey 105-74 later in the night.

"You come to all of these arenas and they have division championship banners up in the rafters," Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said. "If you are trying to start a culture of winning, these guys need to start seeing the fruits of their labor and those things are important."

Although Toronto is the only team in the East to have wrapped up a division title, it still trails Chicago in the conference standings.

The second-place Bulls are 1 1/2 games ahead of the Raptors, and three games back of East-leading Detroit, whom they beat 106-88 on Wednesday. Toronto is one game ahead of Atlantic Division-leading Miami, and the fourth seed will likely be without home-court advantage in the playoffs.

Chicago also has little room for error because it shares the same record with Cleveland, though the Bulls own the tiebreaker and that would leave the Cavaliers with the fifth seed.

Neither Chicago nor Toronto looked like it would be competing for one of the top seeds in the East early this season. The Bulls lost nine of their first 12 games while the Raptors opened 2-8.

Both teams have been playing some of their best basketball of the season lately, though, as Chicago has won seven of eight and Toronto has won seven of nine.

"I think it means a lot, especially with the quick turnaround that we've had this year," Raptors forward Chris Bosh said of winning a division title. "It's a great thing. This team overcame a lot of adversity early. Now we have to look ahead to clinching that third spot."

Bosh had 23 points and 13 rebounds in Friday's win over the 76ers, and is averaging 27.2 points and 12.8 boards in his last five games.

The two-time All-Star had 25 points and 14 rebounds in a 112-111 win at Chicago on Feb. 13, as the Raptors snapped a 15-game losing streak in the series.

The Bulls still have won seven straight at the Air Canada Centre since a 103-89 defeat on Dec. 6, 2002. They shot 59.7 percent from the floor in their 107-97 win in Toronto on Dec. 29.

Chicago's Luol Deng scored 30 points in February's loss to the Raptors, and is averaging 26.7 points on 64.9 percent shooting against them this season.

Deng had 24 points and 12 rebounds in the win over the Nets on Friday, and is averaging 23.7 points in his last six games.

The Bulls beat New Jersey despite being without center Ben Wallace (sinus inflammation), as well as reserve forwards Tyrus Thomas (flu), Andres Nocioni (foot) and Adrian Griffin (back spasms).

"I guess it's a good thing to have ... guys that when called upon step up," said Kirk Hinrich, who scored 20 points. "That's kind of who we are, a team that relies on each other, including when guys are out, we rely on people to step up and we've been able to do that the last couple of games."

Nocioni, who is averaging 14.8 points, has missed 28 games with plantar fasciitis but is expected to play in this game. Wallace and Thomas also are likely to return.

By: Marc Young - theSpread.com - Email Us

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