Bulls, Raptors battle for playoff positioning

(SportsNetwork.com) - A pair of Eastern Conference contenders jockeying for playoff position collide Wednesday north of the border, as the Toronto Raptors take on the Chicago Bulls from Air Canada Centre.

The Raptors could have punched their ticket to the postseason with a win over the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday, but sustained a 108-104 loss at The Palace.

DeMar DeRozan led the visitors with 22 points and 10 rebounds, and Lou Williams scored 19 points off the bench. Amir Johnson had 13 points for the Raptors, who entered the game with four wins in the previous six games.

DeRozan scored four straight on the back end of an 11-0 spurt that gave the Raptors a brief lead, 91-90, with 5:41 remaining. But the Pistons responded, with Reggie Jackson assisting on an Andre Drummond layup and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 3-pointer before swooping in for a layup.

Detroit led by two late when Jackson air-balled a potential dagger. Toronto went to a Williams isolation from the top of the key with the game on the line, and his pull-up 3 was off the mark. Jodie Meeks made two free throws with 1.6 seconds left to seal it.

It didn't help Toronto that All-Star guard Kyle Lowry left in the first half with a back issue.

"It twisted the wrong way and it gave out," Lowry said. "I'm going to take my time and make sure I'm completely healthy before I even step back on the floor."

Lowry had missed the previous two games with back spasms.

The Raptors will host the LA Lakers and Houston Rockets on this three-game homestand and are 24-14 at ACC. They sit fourth in the East standings, a half- game behind Chicago and two ahead of Washington.

Chicago is playoff bound and recorded a 98-86 victory versus the Charlotte Hornets on Monday. Nikola Mirotic posted 28 points off the bench, Pau Gasol provided 27 points, 12 boards and four blocks, and Jimmy Butler recorded 19 points in his first game since March 1. Butler had been sidelined with an elbow ailment.

"We got a lot to look forward to," Butler said. "When we get all of our pieces back, we're pretty hard to beat."

Aaron Brooks had 13 points and 10 assists for the Bulls, who have won three of their last four games and sit three games behind Cleveland for the Central Division lead. The Bulls are also three games behind the Cavaliers for the No. 2 spot in the conference.

The Bulls are 20-15 on the road and will host New York Saturday night.

Bulls center Joakim Noah (soreness) is probable against the Raptors and did not play versus Charlotte. Noah is averaging 7.5 points and 9.9 rebounds.

Chicago is 3-0 against Toronto this season and has prevailed in each of the previous four encounters between the teams. The Bulls are unbeaten in their last three trips to Canada.