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Sixers-Bulls Preview: Wait, This Game Actually Matters

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight the Sixers begin what was supposed to be — until a sweaty basketball court in late November decided otherwise — a five-game road swing in Chicago: the Bulls are sitting comfortably at the 7-seed in the East (just 4.5 games up on Philly); Chicago won handily in the last meeting between the two squads, as Robin Lopez Of All People (his legal name) carved up the Sixer defense for 27; and Joel Embiid will watch in street clothes because apparently this current regime of the Sixers doesn’t know how to say “no.” And somehow, I completely expect the Sixers to come away victorious tonight.

Sure, this is in part due to Chicago’s, um, misguided 2016 offseason finally rearing its ugly head. Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade called out the younger Bulls following a blown lead in Atlanta earlier in the week, so Rajon Rondo, as people do, made an Instagram post about it. Butler and Wade were punished by riding the hardwood for the first half against a putrid Miami team Friday night, leading to yet another loss. It’s all quite silly, and you can read more about it by our friends at Blog A Bull.

But most of my optimism about the Sixers tonight is rooted in the fact that this isn’t the same team that fell to Chicago a touch over two months ago: Nerlens Noel will likely start in Okafor’s stead (although, who knows — another fun bonus of this regime is that we typically don’t learn the starting lineup until about halfway through the first quarter); T.J. McConnell, who somehow evolved into a Steve Nash super-lite, will surely clock more than 11 minutes; and Robert Covington, who logged an ugly minus-28 and bricked all of his four shots in the previous contest, has evidently remembered how to shoot in the New Year. The Joel-less Sixers already won back-to-back contests against two arguably better teams earlier this week, so a flailing Chicago team should be a relative breeze.

But because the Sixers just can’t seem to shake the stink of being the Sixers and the Bulls are the most overhyped team of the last half-decade — Remember when Joakim Noah finished fourth in MVP voting but couldn’t even create his own shot? Lol. — Philly still stands as a 6.5-point dog tonight. But surely the Sixers are as aware of this game’s stakes as the rest of us — the opportunity to move up a full game in the Eastern standings — and because I just can’t seem to stop jinxing Philadelphia in this post, the young squad should presumably fare better than last time.

A Sixers game with playoff implications — when was the last time we could say that?

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