The first chapter of the Sixers’ 2023-24 campaign couldn’t have gone much better. Joel Embiid is somehow even better than when he won MVP just months ago, Tyrese Maxey is a genuine star, the team has the best wing depth it’s had in years, and Nick Nurse’s revamped offense with more creative movement and passing has been elite.
Now, at 22-9 and third place in the Eastern Conference, it’s time for the Sixers’ final game of 2023, as they head to Chicago to face the Bulls.
Zach LaVine is still the biggest absence for Chicago. He’s been out since Nov. 30 with a foot injury and remains sidelined for Saturday. Nikola Vucevic also remains out after missing the last two games with a groin strain. Along with Lonzo Ball who’s out for the season, Torrey Craig (right plantar fascia) is also out, while Patrick Williams (right ankle sprain) and Jevon Carter (right ankle sprain) are listed as probable.
For the Sixers, Nick Nurse confirmed on Friday that Embiid won’t be playing against the Bulls as he continues recovering from his right ankle sprain.
The Sixers are coming into Saturday on the back of two solid wins without Embiid — their first victories of the season when the big fella has been out. First, a comfortable 112-92 win against the 19-12 Magic, followed by a 131-127 win against the Rockets on Friday. Despite the latter being a bit close for comfort, it’s still a win on the road powered by a stellar 42-point performance from Maxey, supported by valuable contributions (and some big late plays) from guys like Marcus Morris and Patrick Beverley. Credit to Tobias Harris as well for showing up at both ends of the floor with 22 points, seven assists, four steals and three blocks. You happily take that result when your best player’s out.
Meanwhile, the Bulls have some issues even when fully healthy. But without LaVine they’ve struggled recently and their offensive rating has slipped to 23rd in the league. They now sit at just 14-19 and 10th place in the East.
Without Embiid, the Sixers’ smaller frontcourt rotation will be led by Paul Reed, who continues to turn in solid performances and tallied 15 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and three blocks against Orlando. Andre Drummond has been starting in Vucevic’s place, so will provide a bit more strength for Reed to compete with on the glass, but the Bulls have been downsizing more behind Drummond with their bench rotation.
Alex Caruso has been starting while LaVine has been out, and continues to excel as one of the NBA’s top defenders and all-around impactful role players. Maxey wasn’t at his best when the Sixers last played Chicago, and it’ll be interesting to see how the two face off on Saturday.
Coby White can’t be underestimated either. We all know DeMar DeRozan, the Bulls’ leading scorer at 22.3 points per game, is the top assignment for De’Anthony Melton and the Sixers’ wings, but White is having a career year. He’s fairly effective attacking the rim and is primarily thriving as a high-volume shooter, upping his three-point attempts to 7.4 per game while making 39.5 percent of them (both numbers are career-highs). All together, he’s averaging career-bests in points (17.6), rebounds (4.2) and assists (4.9) per game.
White even dropped 24 points on 9-of-17 shooting, eight rebounds and nine assists when these teams last played on Dec. 18.
The Sixers lost by four points in their last matchup against the Bulls. They suffered from a measly three-point performance from Harris and a cool-ish shooting night from Maxey (9-of-23), as the Bulls had six double-digit scorers and shot 41.4 percent (12-of-29) from deep.
Playing shorthanded on the second night of a back-to-back makes this game more of a challenge. But Maxey and the team’s supporting cast have stepped up the last two games without Embiid. If they can do so again, there’s no reason they can’t beat a depleted Bulls squad to end 2023 with a win.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Chicago Bulls
When: 8:00 pm EST
Where: United Center, Chicago, IL
Watch: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic