Can the shorthanded 76ers find a way to slow down the Bulls?

LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 01: Philadelphia 76ers Forward Tobias Harris (12) give his teammates a thumbs up during a NBA game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Clippers on March 1, 2020 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

The Philadelphia 76ers (24-12) return to the regular season after the All-Star break in a road game against the Chicago Bulls (16-18), tonight at the United Center in Chicago.

Status report

The 76ers will be without Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as they’re still in COVID protocol. This will be tough for the first-place Sixers as the last matchup against the Bulls saw Embiid demolish the smaller frontcourt with 50 points on 17-26 shooting. The pair should both be cleared and ready to play by Saturday night.

The Bulls have Lauri Markkanen (Shoulder sprain) and Otto Porter Jr. (Lower back spasms) listed as ‘probable to return’ after missing multiple games. Markkanen is averaging 19.2 points per game and Porter at 11.6, so the Sixers will have their work cut out knowing that their two best defensive players will be unable to help lock them down.

Finding the answer to Zach LaVine

The real problem for the Sixers outside of losing their two best players will come in the way of a player that many want to see in Philadelphia Zach LaVine. LaVine has taken his game to another level this season. He’s averaging 28.7 points per game to go along with 5.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists. The All-star has been a terror for opposing defenses as he’s shooting over 52% from the field and over 43% from beyond the three-point line.

Look for Matisse Thybulle to see a boost in minutes as the player that’s best suited to try and contain LaVine.

 What adjustments will Doc Rivers make to the 76ers starting lineup?

The Sixers will have to start Dwight Howard at center and you’ll probably see some extended minutes for Tony Bradley. They’ll need to rely heavily on Tobias Harris and Seth Curry to provide the scoring. Shake Milton is almost assured of a starting spot with Curry having to handle the point guard duties. 

The Sixers are 1-5 without Joel Embiid and 2-3 without Ben Simmons, so tonight should make for an interesting game. They’re going to need to rely on their defense and spacing in order to win against the Bulls.  

Keys to a 76ers win

Tonight’s game will all come down to shooting and defense on the perimeter. The Bulls play a smaller game so Dwight Howard shouldn’t be overworked and could easily pick up a double-double. The Sixers will need a big game out of Harris (20.5 PPG) and Curry (12.5 PPG) if they want to keep up with the Bulls.

Mattisse Thybulle will be called on to provide his usual defensive prowess but if the team need scoring in a pinch, they could turn to rookie Tyrese Maxey (8.0 PPG). Players like Danny Green (8.5 PPG) and Shake Milton (13.8 PPG) are going to have to be on the top of their games at both ends of the court. 

The biggest hurdle to jump right now is getting off on the right foot to start the second half of the season and overcoming the losses of their two young stars. The bench players for the Sixers need to show that they can hold it down for the team as the trade deadline creeps closer. 

Prediction: Sixers 112 – Bulls 105

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire