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Sixers-Bulls preview: wings, guards have to mitigate absence of Joel Embiid

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With Joel Embiid sitting against the Chicago Bulls, the Sixers wings and guards have to contribute heavily tonight.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Philadelphia 76ers John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

A jaded Joel Embiid, restricted to playing in the parameters of his minutes restriction, displayed passion and intensity after being strapped to the bench for the second overtime in Wednesday’s loss to Memphis. With Jahlil Okafor failing to impact the game, Embiid might’ve helped spark a third straight home win. Embiid is sitting out tonight’s game against Chicago, leading to a probable Jahlil Okafor start.

Accessing Embiid and Okafor against Memphis, Embiid simply displayed more effort on both ends of the floor. Okafor’s minimal imprint on the game was alarming, but Embiid outhustled Okafor. Combatting an active Robin Lopez, it is pertinent for Okafor to exert substantial energy to contain the mobile big.

The evolving Lopez is expanding his offensive game, attempting looks outside of the paint and connecting at an exceptional clip. Okafor, a defensively flawed big whose awareness and effort has been alarming this season, could have issues contesting Lopez. The Bulls don’t run pick-and-roll with Lopez as much as other teams do with their centers, but Okafor will have to adapt to Lopez’s range.

Philadelphia also has to contain more potent wings tonight than what they faced Wednesday. Jimmy Butler is scalding offensively, averaging 25.8 PPG and shooting 42.3 percent from deep, and has thrived in the vaulted offensive role. Robert Covington’s defensive wizardry this season provides the Sixers with hope for containment.

Covington can allow dribble penetration against adept slashers, but he’s been superbly handsy in a last-ditch effort to prevent a scoring opportunity. He’s averaging 1.87 SPG over his last eight games with some contributed to dislodging the ball away from a potential shooter.

The third-year combo forward endured a deep freeze offensively before going 6-for-10 from the floor and 4-for-7 from deep Wednesday in a losing effort. Against a two-way player in Butler, Covington might have to get creative in the half court to contribute substantially.

A player whose creativity has become evident off the dribble, two-guard Nik Stauskas’ breakthrough November has provided Brett Brown with a competent offensive talent off the bench. He’s shooting just 5-for-21 (23.8 percent) in his last two games, but is on a torrid clip shooting this month (50 percent in 13 games). Stauskas, if his minutes remain high, defensively will have a suboptimal matchup guarding the deft scorer Dwyane Wade. Stauskas is still losing his man off the dribble and Wade’s history of leaving his adversary in the dust when slashing creates a problem.

Wade’s also developed a perimeter jumper this season, averaging 3.5 attempts per game, to compensate for his diminishing athleticism. Wade’s shooting a career-high 38.8 percent from deep, allowing head coach Fred Hoiberg to optimize his offensive versatility.

With Stauskas and Covington dealing with tough covers. Sergio Rodriguez won’t have as difficult of a time containing Rajon Rondo/Chicago point guards in the half court as he did with Mike Conley Wednesday. Chicago’s infamous coalition of paint-oriented offensive talents at the point (Rondo, Jerian Grant) allows Rodriguez to hedge under screens tonight without getting caught up in the play.

*Michael Carter-Williams has been ruled out with a left knee bone bruise and a wrist sprain.

Offensively, Rodriguez is progressively adjusting to NBA defenses, shooting just 36.6 percent heading into tonight’s game, but his vision and passing touch is a welcomed aspect to the Sixers offense. With Jerryd Bayless back, playing both as a ball handler and off-ball, Rodriguez has less pressure to initiate constant offense.

Both guards and wings will be essential tonight for the Sixers (4-11) to upstage the Bulls (9-6) tonight at The Center.