The Philadelphia 76ers’ latest win wasn’t pretty. After dominating against the Houston Rockets in the first half and going up by as much as 29 points, the Rockets cut the lead to just 4 in the fourth quarter as the Sixers held on to win, 118-113. Nevertheless, with the successful use of their 2-3 zone, 24 points from Tobias Harris, 25 points from Seth Curry, a terrific defensive performance from Matisse Thybulle, and a big second half from Joel Embiid (in an off game, he still finished with 31 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists) to lead the way, the Sixers ensured they kept their top spot in the Eastern Conference at 19-10.
To finish up their short two-game home stint on Friday, the Sixers will be facing the Chicago Bulls.
Shake Milton has been upgraded to doubtful as he continues to recover from a left ankle sprain, while Ben Simmons is probable after missing Wednesday’s game due to illness.
Meanwhile, the Bulls are going to be rather depleted. Otto Porter Jr. is out with back spasms, and Lauri Markkanen (who’s been having a far more productive, efficient scoring season this year) is out with a right shoulder sprain.
One important thing to watch will be the condition of Joel Embiid. He isn’t listed on the NBA injury report, but his back has still been bothering him at times and it was tight during the Sixers’ game against Houston. It was clear he wasn’t feeling his best.
“It was pretty tight,” Embiid said after the game. “I just wanted to make sure we got the win, and that’s all that matters.”
“I wanted to give it a shot for five more minutes,” he added when asked if there was a chance he wouldn’t return to play in the second half. “Obviously things changed and I had to adjust to it... The whole game it was pretty tight, but I’ll be fine.”
Thaddeus Young has been having a great season for Chicago. His passing in particular has been more impressive than ever this year. He’s been making loads of quality reads from the elbows, post and short rolls, and averaging a career-high 4.4 assists per game to show for it. Wendell Carter Jr. has returned for the last two games after missing 11 games with a quad injury.
That said, despite the defensive ability of Young and Carter, their lack of size and strength when compared to the Sixers’ MVP candidate should give them trouble. Against Chicago’s smaller frontcourt rotation, Embiid should have a good opportunity to generate free throws and find success with his post-ups and face-ups without having to work too hard.
The biggest test for the Sixers in this game will be slowing down the dynamic guard who’s been a popular trade target among Philly fans this season: Zach LaVine. LaVine has easily been having his best year in the NBA, with new career-highs across the board. He’s averaging 28.5 points and 5.2 assists per game, shooting 52 percent overall and 43.7 percent from three on 8.2 attempts a night (he deserves more recognition as one of the league’s deadlier pull-up shooters). His 64.9 True Shooting percentage is well above his previous career-high of 57.6, and he’s made notable improvements as a passer, showing the ability to make more advanced reads with consistency and better manipulate defenses.
LaVine’s strong play has helped carry the Bulls to the 9th seed in the Eastern Conference at 12-15, with the NBA’s 18th-ranked offense. The Bulls are currently riding a two-game win streak, with victories against the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons. However, with Ben Simmons likely returning, the Sixers should have more than enough firepower and favorable matchups when attacking inside to handle this depleted Bulls team.
As for noteworthy players in this season’s rookie class, keep an eye on forward Patrick Williams. He’s been starting for the Bulls and impressing at both ends of the floor, while shooting an encouraging 39.7 percent from three (albeit on only 2.2 attempts per game) and showing promising flashes of growth off the dribble.
Who: Chicago Bulls vs. Philadelphia 76ers
When: 7:30pm ET
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia, ESPN
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic