Raptors open challenging trek at Chicago

(SportsNetwork.com) - The Toronto Raptors hit the road Monday night when they visit the Chicago Bulls at the United Center in a pivotal Eastern Conference showdown.

The Raptors remain atop the conference, while the Bulls sit in fourth.

The Raptors own the NBA's longest current winning streak at six games. Toronto hasn't lost since Dec. 9 in Cleveland and during this run, it has won two in a row as the visitor.

On Sunday, the Raptors collected a comfortable 118-108 home win over the New York Knicks.

Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams led the way with 22 points apiece as six players scored in double figures for the Raptors. Lowry also had nine assists and three steals for Toronto.

Greivis Vasquez and Terrence Ross tallied 21 and 18 points, respectively. James Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas finished with 10 points apiece.

Toronto starts a six-game road trip Monday in Chicago. The odyssey won't be an easy one with stops against the Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers, Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns also on the docket.

"I'm ready for it," said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. "I've been preaching it, and we should be ready for it. Everyone is all excited. But again, reality is real, and we have to be ready for adversity whenever it hits. You go in with positive vibes and are ready to kick some behind, but when adversity hits that's when you find out how close we are and how we have to stick together."

The Bulls have won two in a row, including a spectacular road victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night. Chicago prevailed, 103-97, and owns a three-game home winning streak.

Jimmy Butler's first double-double of the season helped the Bulls to victory. A night after he went for a career-high 35 points in a win over the New York Knicks, Butler netted 31 points with 10 rebounds as the Bulls stopped Memphis' six-game winning streak.

"I think my teammates always trust me to take good shots," Butler said. "We've always played pretty well on the road. We have to turnaround and do it at home. This was definitely a big win."

Nikola Mirotic proved to be a spark off the bench for Chicago, scoring a career-high 27 points on 6-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc. Aaron Brooks had 17 points off the bench for the Bulls. Joakim Noah registered a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds, while Pau Gasol grabbed 11 boards in the victory.

The Bulls, who have won two straight and five of their last six, were without Derrick Rose (illness) and Taj Gibson (ankle) for a second straight game. Per an ESPN story, both could be back in the lineup Monday night.

The Bulls beat the Raptors in Toronto on Nov. 13 and have won three of the last five. Toronto has won three consecutive games in Chicago.