TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors will open their season steeped in serenity Thursday night at Air Canada Centre against the Chicago Bulls, whose own camaraderie was shaken by in-fighting.
While the Raptors were talking about their comfort level with each other, the Bulls lost a player for at least a month because a teammate punched him during practice.
“Camaraderie and chemistry is hard to come by,” Raptors All-Star DeMar DeRozan said Tuesday after the team practiced.
The Bulls, meanwhile, seemed to be proving that the same day during their practice when Bobby Portis punched Nikola Mirotic in an altercation that resulted in two broken facial bones and a concussion.
Both players will be missing from the Bulls’ lineup Thursday and beyond.
Mirotic, who had won the starting job at power forward during training camp, is expected to be sidelined four to six weeks and might require surgery. Portis was suspended by the team for eight games.
The two have had a long-standing feud.
Their absences create a hole at power forward, and the job will be taken by rookie Lauri Markkanen for now, according to Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. Cristiano Felicio is the other power forward.
The Bulls had worked all during training camp and in the offseason at creating a new, positive team culture that emphasizes competitiveness and hard work.
“It’s certainly a little deflating,” Bulls center Robin Lopez said. “But everything you guys have heard, people expressing how great this culture has been so far, this summer and into the fall, the majority of that is legitimately true.
“It’s going to be not only on those two players to mend that confidence, to mend that trust between the two of them, but on the teammates, upon us. Part of that good mojo we have right now is gonna be huge in unifying the two.”
The Bulls are also dealing with injuries to Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, Cameron Payne and Quincy Pondexter.
When Chicago obtained Kay Felder this week, after he was waived by the Cleveland Cavaliers, he became the eighth point guard brought in since last season.
“Well, especially with the injury situation we have (with Dunn), (Felder) is a young explosive point guard with great speed and quickness,” Hoiberg said. “He fits how we want to play — up-tempo — and he’s a guy that I know everybody upstairs really liked coming out of college. … He’s a good guy to take a look at and see if he fits with the future plans.”
The Raptors, meanwhile, have been talking about how their familiarity has bred content.
“So, when you have that sense of comfort — knowing guys as individuals on and off the court — you have a different comfort zone when you go out there in the big moments, understanding each other,” DeRozan said. “That kind of goes a long way and it actually wins you games in the NBA. You can tell teams that have been together for years. … They can pull out victories over more talented teams. Things like that definitely go a long way.”
Both teams are adapting to a different style of play this season, with an emphasis on 3-point shooting.
“We have talked a lot about three things: playing with pace, playing with movement, playing with unselfishness,” Hoiberg said. “And I think they have bought into all three of those areas. I think at times we have actually played a little too unselfish. We have moved the ball and it has gotten us in trouble in late shot-clock situations.”
The Raptors, who have relied heavily on DeRozan and All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry, will be emphasizing ball movement and 3-point shooting instead of the one-on-one approach.
“(If) I don’t know where the ball is going, damn sure the defense is not going to know where it’s going,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “It’s a fun way to play. That’s the way the game is going; it’s harder to scout. The game is so sophisticated now that teams scout you so well. They know exactly what you’re going to do before you even get the rest of the sentence out of your mouth as a coach.”
The Raptors signed C.J. Miles to add to their 3-point shooting ability. Miles made 41 percent of his 3-pointers last season with the Indiana Pacers.
In the season opener, the Bulls likely will start Jerian Grant, Justin Holiday, Paul Zipser, Markkanen and Lopez, and the Raptors will go with Lowry, DeRozan, Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas.