The Chicago Bulls (3-3) return home to the United Center to face the Philadelphia 76ers (2-4) in the first of four games scheduled between the two this season. Tonight is also the second game in a straight set for Chicago and Philadelphia. The Bulls missed five points from the Spurs in San Antonio last night, 129-124, while the 76ers went to Toronto and knocked out the Raptors, 112-90, unaided by All-NBA center Joel Embiid.
Not only is tonight the second in a back-to-back for both teams, but it also closes the book on a very busy week for the Bulls and 76ers. Tonight’s contest will be the fourth in six days for both teams and the third in a four-game trek for the 76ers.
In recent years, Philadelphia has dominated the Bulls, winning 11 straight, including a four-game sweep last season. The last time Chicago emerged victorious was on March 6, 2019, at the United Center, with a 120-106 win.
After tonight, the Bulls travel to Brooklyn to meet the Nets on Tuesday, then return home to face the Charlotte Hornets at the United Center on Wednesday.
As for tonight’s game against the 76ers, here are some things to watch (7:00 p.m. CST tipoff – NBC Sports Chicago):
The Bulls arrive tonight having split their first six games and are aiming to bounce back from their fall in San Antonio last night. DeMar DeRozan led the way with 33 points on 11-of-20 shooting, Coby White added 19 points, while Andre Drummond contributed with 17 points, 14 rebounds and three steals off the bench. As a team, the Bulls shot 47% from the field and nine of 27 from the 3-point line, but once again suffered another slow start to the game and couldn’t find an answer to the Spurs’ balanced attack in which they dished out 37 assists and seven players finished in double figures.
Much like the Spurs, for the Bulls to succeed, Chicago must play with pace, relentlessly attack the paint and find their way to the basket and the free throw line. In their last three games, Chicago has done a pretty solid job of getting there. The Bulls have scored a total of 364 points in three straight games. They did this by repeatedly driving the ball deep into the paint, leading the action to the hoop. Together, Chicago has beaten its last three opponents in the paint, 144-130, and the charity strip, 69-50. The Bulls also passed them in shooting .484 (132-273) at .441 (120-272).
It’s essential that Chicago moves the ball with precision from player to player, jumping it inside and outside as well as from one side of the 3-point arc to the other. The ball cannot stay in the hands of one player for too long while everyone else stands and watches. The uninterrupted movement of the players, as well as quick and decisive passes, are absolutely vital.
After sitting out last night in San Antonio, Zach LaVine is likely to return to the roster, which should be a major boost for Chicago. The two-time All-Star has played in just three of the first six games, but when he’s been on the court he’s been really good, averaging 23.3 points, while shooting .444 (20-45) since then. the field and an eye-popping .579 (11-19) from range, as well as money in the bank from the charity stripe at .826 (19-23).
Philadelphia has yet to really hit its stride this season, but they’re coming to town having won two of their last three after beating the Raptors last night, 112-90. Tyrese Maxey drained nine 3-pointers to lead the way with a career-high 44 points, eight rebounds and four assists on 15 of 20 shooting, Tobias Harris and De’Anthony Melton each scored 13 points while James Harden contributed with 11 points. As a team, the 76ers shot 52% from the field and 16 of 38 from the 3-point line as they took control with a 37-point explosion in the second quarter, before retiring as they held Toronto just 20 points in the fourth quarter to make it a blowout.
Center Joel Embiid is off to another All-Star start, averaging 27.6 points, 10.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. He scored 31 points on Wednesday but sat out yesterday in Toronto. The guess here is he was just resting on the back-to-back opener and will be on the floor tonight against the Bulls. And why not, because last season Embiid twice recorded 40+ points and double-digit rebounds in three of four games against Chicago. In total, the seventh-year center averaged 32.8 points, 12.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists, shooting .529 from the field and .471 from the arc in the series.
Defensively, Chicago needs to come into tonight’s game with a tough, physical mindset, circling and hitting Embiid whenever he looks to get low in the paint. The Bulls also need to get shooters out of the 3-point arc quickly or it could be a very long night for the home team. Chicago must do a great job of communicating with each other and be prepared to spin and jump passing lanes to thwart the Sixers’ explosive offense while igniting the Bulls’ transition game.
The Bulls are going to need tremendous effort at both ends of the floor from their star players, as well as finding an unsung hero or two to beat this very talented Philadelphia team.