The Philadelphia 76ers (25-12) came into tonight’s contest sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings. However, they faced an uphill battle against Chicago (16-19) as they had to play without All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, who remain out due to issues related to COVID-19 contact tracing. Embiid, who many consider to be the frontrunner for MVP, is averaging 30.2 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 3.3 assists while Simmons’ stat line currently sits at 16.1/7.9/7.6 on 57.8% shooting from the field.
Embiid notched a career-high 50 points to go with 17 rebounds, five assists, four blocks, and two steals in the first meeting against Chicago on February 19. Zach LaVine stood out for the Bulls that night with 30 points in a game that helped clear a path to his first career All-Star appearance. Entering the break, the Bulls won six of nine as they continue to push for their first Eastern Conference playoff birth since 2017.
Currently, Chicago sits in ninth place behind Toronto with the Raptors ahead by percentage points. Tonight’s meeting with the 76ers tipped off a crucial five-game, seven-day homestand featuring matchups against three teams ahead of them in the standings; the 76ers, Heat, and Raptors. With the win tonight, Philadelphia now has six straight victories against Chicago.
The Bulls started the second half of the season with fortuitous news on the injury front, welcoming back Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter Jr. Both players had been out since February 5. Tonight also marked a milestone for Coby White who participated in his 100th NBA game. Markkanen played well in his return from injury, finishing with 23 points and four rebounds in 28 minutes. He was a perfect 7/7 from long range and an impressive 8/11 from the field. LaVine added 19 points, although most were in garbage time and Coby White contributed 18 points of his own. Thaddeus Young played well off the bench, producing a stat line of 14/8/2. But, beyond that, there weren’t many positives to speak of.
For Philadelphia, it was complete domination in all facets of the game. Tobias Harris (24/3/4) was, by far, the best player on the court. The 76ers scored a jaw-dropping 76 points in the paint while their bench outscored the Bulls 42-25. In a turn-back-the-clock night, Dwight Howard notched his 735th career double-double, the most amongst active players. He finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds.
History Repeats Itself
Tell me if you’ve heard this before; the Bulls came out flat with no intensity and had to climb out of an early hole. The same problem which has plagued this young team all season long, continued again tonight. Philadelphia, knowing they would be without their two best players, started the game ultra-aggressive, crashing the offensive boards and converting seven early Bulls turnovers into twelve points. After one quarter, Chicago found themselves down 30-23 to the depleted 76ers.
Philadelphia’s offensive gameplan called for a steady diet of pick-and-roll which the Bulls had trouble defending, oftentimes looking sluggish in their effort. Chicago’s guards consistently failed to get over Philadelphia’s screens, allowing a seemingly-endless barrage of easy buckets at the rim for the away team. As a result, at the ten-minute mark of the second quarter, the Bulls faced a 12-point deficit.
One of the bright spots in the first half for Chicago was undoubtedly Markkanen who showed no signs of rust whatsoever, scoring 14 points and grabbing two rebounds in 13 minutes of play. He was 4/4 from behind the arc and 5/6 from the field. He singlehandedly kept the Bulls in the game, leading the charge during a 10-2 run midway through the second quarter.
Aside from Markkanen, Coby White had a strong half, scoring 15 points including a trio of three-pointers which all came in the second quarter. The Bulls needed everything Markkanen and White could muster seeing as how LaVine failed to make his presence felt, recording only two points in the opening frame and seven overall. The Bulls were down seven going into halftime, yielding an absurd 64 points to Philadelphia.
More of the Same
Attempting to provide a spark for his team, LaVine came out aggressive with four quick points in the third quarter. However, the lackadaisical defensive effort seen in the first half continued. Any momentum the Bulls had from their first few possessions was quickly wiped away when Matisse Thybulle, typically an offensive afterthought, was gifted back-to-back wide open threes.
As they did in the first half, the Bulls also refused to protect the ball. After three quarters, the team committed 13 turnovers which Philadelphia converted into 15 points. At this juncture, frustration began to set in, highlighted by the mild-mannered Wendell Carter Jr. receiving a technical foul for arguing with the officials. Veteran Thaddeus Young took charge for the Bulls, scoring ten points to go with five rebounds and one block in the third quarter.
Despite Young’s effort, the team was forced to climb out of a 12-point hole entering the fourth. The 76ers began the final quarter on an 11-0 run, extending their lead to 23 points and essentially putting the game on ice. The 76ers received minimal pushback from the Bulls and went on to win by a final of 127-105. Chicago will have to have amnesia as they turn around and play tomorrow against Miami, a dangerous team who’s better than their record indicates.
What’s On Tap Next
Up next for the Bulls (16-19) is a home matchup against the Heat (19-18) who look to make it two wins in a row after beating the Magic on Thursday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 8 PM CT. The Heat had a disappointing first half of the season, failing to build upon their surprise run to the NBA Finals in 2020. Nevertheless, their roster is still highlighted by the likes of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, and Goran Dragić. They have plenty of firepower and can humble their opponent on any given night. The Heat play a similar style to the Bulls and look to get out on the fast break. It will be imperative that Chicago brings a much better defensive effort than we saw tonight against Philadelphia.
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