Bulls host Raptors after ‘terrible way’ to open season

After a deflating season-opening loss that quickly prompted a players-only meeting, the Chicago Bulls will aim to regroup on Friday against the visiting Toronto Raptors.

Chicago sputtered out of the gate at home on Wednesday, losing to Oklahoma City 124-104 in a game that saw center Nikola Vucevic and coach Billy Donovan enter into an animated exchange on the bench in the third quarter.

“You’re trying to win. You’re trying to do what you can to help your team win,” Vucevic said. “I didn’t like what was going on.”

In short, what was going on was a momentum shift for the Thunder, who shook off a 35-33 deficit after one quarter to place six players in double figures.

Oklahoma City shot 54.9 percent, including 48.7 percent (19 of 39) from long range while limiting the Bulls to 41.5 percent accuracy from the field.

“We just didn’t respond once they did that run in the second half,” said Chicago’s Zach LaVine, whose 16 points were second to DeMar DeRozan’s team-high 20. “Wasn’t a great showing from us. Didn’t shoot the ball well. Don’t feel like we played with enough heart. And that’s on us.

“Terrible way to come out and start the season, but it gives us opportunity to bounce back the next game.”

Toronto hopes to maintain the momentum from Wednesday’s 97-94 home win against Minnesota in Darko Rajakovic’s first game as Raptors coach.

Another debut steered Toronto to victory, as newcomer Dennis Schroder paced the Raptors with 22 points to lead a balanced attack that also included O.G. Anunoby (20 points) and Scottie Barnes (17).

The Raptors know they have room for growth on offense — they followed a 28-point second quarter with just 20 in the third — and the team is confident Schroder’s experience as a facilitator will be a steady benefit during Toronto’s transition.

“New team, new terminology, new coaching staff,” Rajakovic said. “There’s so much new with our team, and having somebody who’s been through it with different teams in that role of point guard brings calmness.

“A couple of times he was able to talk to guys, put them in the right spots to help our offense.”

Schroder dished three of his game-best seven assists in the fourth quarter. After the Raptors held on for the narrow victory, they dumped ice water on Rajakovic in the locker room — a sharp contrast to the scene in the Bulls’ locker room after their opener.

“Coach came in screaming,” Schroder said. “We got all the ice ready for him and put it over him. I think it’s a special moment for him and a great experience for all of us in the locker room. … He’s always emotional.”

Chicago leads the all-time series with Toronto, 55-47. The Bulls have won seven of the past 10 meetings, including the teams’ lone matchup at United Center last season.

The run also includes five straight home wins for the Bulls against the Raptors. Toronto’s most recent win in Chicago came on Dec. 9, 2019.