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Eastern Conference showdown: Embiid, Sixers battle DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls

The Sixers look to avoid a 3 game slide by slowing down a pair of All-Star wings

Chicago Bulls v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The Sixers lost at least three games in a row on two separate occasions so far this season. They suffered a five game skid back in Nov. when Joel Embiid missed time with a scary breakthrough COVID infection. They lost another trio of games during a rough patch on the schedule, falling short to the Grizzlies, Heat, and Nets in mid Dec.

Now they’ll need to slow down a pair of All-Stars in DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine in order to avoid their third loss in a row during Sunday’s (no football today) matinee.

Lonzo Ball is out with a torn meniscus. Alex Caruso is out with a wrist fracture following a hard (suspect) flagrant foul by Milwaukee’s Grayson Allen, who now has quite the resume as a player to be wary of. Pat Williams and Derrick Jones Jr. are both still out.

All-Star reserve, Zach LaVine is actually questionable with back spasms, though in such a pivotal conference match one gets the sense if he can play through the issue he’ll try.

[Update: LaVine has been ruled out ahead of this game with back spasms].

The Sixers will be without Shake Milton (back) and Ben Simmons (personal reasons). Furkan Korkmaz has been upgraded to questionable after missing the team’s last few with knee soreness. If Furk can go the Sixers could really use him to start regressing to the mean from downtown. The sniper from Istanbul has been off-target this season.

Matisse Thybulle landed hard on his back/shoulder last month in a big win vs. the Boston Celtics. It sounds like it’s possible that hard fall may have left him with some lingering discomfort. Matisse has popped up on the injury report with shoulder soreness, he’s questionable for Sunday.

It would hurt to be without Thybulle for any big game. But facing a team that features one of the best wing-attacks in the league, it would be especially inopportune. DeRozan has been playing some of the best basketball of his impressive career this season. He landed in a near-perfect spot for his skill set last off season. Thybulle came up huge when he Houdini’d his way through a gauntlet of screens set for Steph Curry earlier this year. They’ll no doubt task him with trying to help limit DeRozan and LaVine if he’s a go.

DeRozan, a 13 year vet from Compton, California is averaging 26.6 points per game under coach Billy Donovan. That’s the most the guard - once drafted by Bryan Colangelo - has averaged since 2017, when he tallied 27.3 points per game for Dwane Casey’s Toronto Raptors.

At one point the Bulls were red hot back in early Jan. But they’re just 9-7 over their last 16 games. They have won five of their last seven and are tied with the Miami Heat for first place in the East, although Jimmy Butler’s unit possesses the tie-breaker. Chicago is two games up over the Sixers so with a win Sunday, Philly could pull themselves even closer to the Conference’s best record.

The Sixers beat the Bulls twice already this season so you can bet Chicago has had this game highlighted on the calendars.

The Sixers actually have a better scoring differential than the Bulls (+2.0 vs. +1.9). With Joel Embiid in the lineup, the Sixers have arguably been the better team; but the Bulls really miss Ball and Caruso.

The Bulls have the fourth best offensive rating and the 20th ranked defense. In some ways they represent a reciprocal attack from the Dallas Mavericks. The Sixers’ lost 107-98 to Luka Dončić’s Mavs in the last game. Dallas has the 17th best offense and the 5th best defense.

It would not be a surprise to see Donovan deploy some zone defense. The Sixers really struggled against it in Big D and this being a copycat league, teams tend to make you pay for a glaring weakness.

The Sixers are arguably more balanced in their attack than either the Bulls or the Mavs, Doc Rivers squad has the 12th best offense and 11th best defense. It’s been said you want to have at least a top ten offense and top ten defense in order to win the championship. The Sixers fall a tad shy on each half of the court for that benchmark.

One interesting key to watch for this afternoon tilt will be the team’s three point attempt totals. The Bulls and the Sixers are two of the least trigger-happy units in the NBA. The Sixers rank 28th overall firing just 31 triples per contest, the Bulls rank dead last in the category hoisting just 30 bombs per outing.

The Grizzlies, Nets, and Suns (all very good teams) are all in the bottom six for that category too so it’s not necessarily a bad place to be. Still, it’s is surprising for a Dary Morey led team. Some of this could be style, strategy or personnel, and some of this could be because teams with leads don’t need to fire away from deep late in games to catch up, so that keeps their total attempts down.

One vulnerability Philadelphia definitely has is defensive rebounding, even if not everyone can agree precisely on why they struggle to clean the glass.

(I was not replying to Mr. Krell, I had not even seen his tweet when I wrote mine. I just found it funny we both had different takes on the same plague).

Philadelphia corrals the 25th most defensive boards per game and it’s bit them at times. Luckily, the Bulls tend to get back on defense rather than crash the offensive glass. They’re the 28th ranked offensive rebounding team. We’ll see if they decide to stick with their usual plan or crash more than usual since Philly is vulnerable there. The Sixers are actually dead last in offensive rebounding. I’m curious if that’s a personnel thing or philosophy, perhaps Daryl Morey and Doc Rivers believe getting back in transition is more valuable than trying to turn garbage into gold.

If Philly wins they’ll dodge a three-game losing streak and can inch to within a game out of that one seed in the east.

Lineups per Rotowire.com:

Game Info

Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Chicago Bulls

When: 3:30 pm ET, Feb. 6, 2022

Where: United Center, Chicago, Illinois

Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia

Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic

Follow: @Liberty_Ballers