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Sixers head to Chicago coming off their best win of the season

Can Tyrese Maxey and company make it two straight on the tail end of a back-to-back?

Chicago Bulls v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Philadelphia 76ers had their best performance of the season last night, a 112-90 win over the Raptors in Toronto. They’ll be right back at it tonight with their first back-to-back contest of the season in Chicago. The main draw will be seeing what Tyrese Maxey has in store for an encore, after the rising star exploded for a career-high 44 points against the Raptors.

Like we saw last season against Memphis, Maxey’s outstanding outing came without Joel Embiid in the lineup. Embiid sat out Friday night due to what the club termed right knee injury recovery, but what just seemed like a load management day with a back-to-back on the schedule. On the plus side, Joel will be able to take the floor more well-rested than any of his teammates. However, it will be imperative that the ball movement doesn’t stagnate just because the big man is back roaming the interior, or that the transition defense doesn’t become a huge liability again if Joel falls to the ground after a shot attempt around the rim. Aside from Maxey’s prodigious shot-making Friday, what drove the win was a lot better communication and energy on both ends of the floor. The Sixers will need to duplicate those facets of the game, while also harnessing Embiid’s colossal abilities.

Given those thoughts, I’m clearly assuming Joel will return to the court tonight. My co-host Dave Early speculated it might be a good time to give James Harden a rest day in last night’s Talking About Podcast episode. We’ll see if that’s the case and whether Embiid is, in fact, available as injury reports come out later today.

Fortunately, the Bulls aren’t any better rested after having played last night in San Antonio. Chicago is now 3-3 on the season after losing to the Spurs, 129-124 (San Antonio is really not tanking, huh?). DeMar DeRozan led the Bulls in scoring with 33 points against his old club, also leading the team in scoring on the season after making the All-Star team in his first year in Chicago. The Sixers certainly know how dangerous DeRozan is after he scored 37, 25, 45, and 23 points in the four games between the teams last season.

The Bulls are dealing with a couple injuries. Zach LaVine was out last night and has already missed a few games this season due to continued management for the left knee he had arthroscopic surgery on over the summer. He last played on Wednesday, so it might be a similar situation to Joel on a back-to-back where we see LaVine take the floor tonight, although the Bulls star’s knee management seems like a legitimately concerning thing moving forward for Chicago supporters. Meanwhile, Lonzo Ball remains sidelined with his own knee injury that he has been suffering setbacks with since the beginning of the calendar year.

The big man matchups will be fun to watch. Seeing Embiid use his strength advantage against Nik Vucevic is always a treat, only for Vuc to fire back by pulling Joel out of the lane with long jumpers. Andre Drummond signed a two-year, $6.6 million deal with Chicago this offseason. He and Embiid buried the hatchet as teammates, but maybe now as competitors it’s time to check in on some old real estate?

Defensively, stopping the Bulls’ star wings (or wing, if LaVine doesn’t play) will obviously be the top priority and key to victory. Matisse Thybulle could help in that area, after he received his first significant playing time of the season last night and did fairly well with it. Ideally, the Sixers put together a second straight outstanding performance, and this time do it while involving their franchise superstar in the proceedings. Such an outcome would go a long way towards quelling the concerns from this early part of the season.

Game Details

Who: Philadelphia 76ers at Chicago Bulls
When: 8:00 pm ET
Where: United Center, Chicago, IL
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus, NBA TV
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic
Follow: @LibertyBallers

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