Why the Sixers need to be smart in tonight’s clash with the Bulls

PHILADELPHIA, PA – MARCH 13: Indiana Pacers Center Al Jefferson (25) reaches in to tip the ball away from Philadelphia 76ers Center Joel Embiid (21) in the second half during the game between the Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers on March 13, 2018 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

On the positive side of things, the Sixers are now on a four-game winning streak in which they have climbed back into first place in the conference once again. They will look to continue their journey to winning out as the team is back in action tonight against a likely-depleted Bulls roster, giving the Sixers a handy 6-point edge.

On a more realistic view, the victory over the Spurs was a disappointing win for the Sixers. Without their two best players, the Spurs were able to climb back from a 17-point deficit and force the Sixers into overtime. Thanks to a last-second tip-in from Ben Simmons, the Sixers were still able to secure the victory but each starter played 34+ minutes in a game that was expected to result in rest time for the group.

Sixers’ Daunting Schedule

Doc Rivers spoke last night regarding this tough stretch of schedule and called it the “worst scheduling of the year.” Doc pointed out how the Sixers had to travel from San Antonio to Chicago last night for a back-to-back and then will then return to Texas to face the Houston Rockets on Wednesday.

Sixers Injury Outlook

Despite the daunting schedule, the Sixers did not have any players listed on the injury report at the 1:30 release. It has been a pleasant change to no longer see the bulk of the Sixers roster on these reports as they have healed up from their injury struggles over the past few weeks.

However, this seems like a great game to give Joel Embiid to be given the opportunity to rest. Although he has drawn criticism for missing a large number of games this year and has no interest in taking himself out of the lineup, the priority must continue to be keeping Embiid healthy. Having Embiid take the court less than 24 hours after playing 35 minutes and immediately flying across the country is an unnecessary risk for the MVP candidate. With just 8 games to go (including tonight), the sole focus must be keeping the big fella healthy and in his best form heading into playoffs. Embiid has been a late scratch on multiple occasions already this season, and it may not be bad news if that is the case tonight.

Chicago Bulls

The Bulls have struggled to truly find their identity as a team this year and currently sit in tenth place in the East with a record of 26-38. They are currently on a three-game losing streak and sit three games out from making the cut for the play-in tournament. Even a midseason trade for Nikola Vucevic has not been enough to right the ship this season as they are 10-20 since the all-star break.

It is likely they will be without their superstar, Zach LaVine, tonight as he is listed as doubtful due to health and safety protocols. Zach LaVine has missed the last ten games for the Bulls as he was originally ruled out due to a right ankle sprain. After being forced to enter the NBA’s strict health and safety protocols, LaVine’s absence was extended with the end of the season rapidly approaching. This is a major deal for the Bulls as the all-star is averaging 27.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 5.1 assists this season. With the Bulls’ playoff hopes having taken a real shot due to the recent losing streak, there are whispers that the Bulls’ organization may not be in a major rush to get LaVine back as their focus shifts toward the offseason rather than any postseason matchups.

The Bulls’ new addition (and former Sixer) Nikola Vucevic is also listed as questionable due to right adductor tightness. He has continued his production since coming to Chicago and is averaging 22.3 points and 10.9 rebounds per game with the team. Vucevic did not play in the Bulls’ previous matchup due to the injury. If he is unable to go, it just is another reason why Joel Embiid should be given a rest day. Troy Brown Jr. has already been ruled out of this game due to a sprained ankle, which limits the bench depth for Chicago.

Sixers Outlook

Even with the sluggish legs and small amount of rest, expect this to serve as a statement game for the Sixers. Following a performance in which they let an undermanned Spurs team hang around, the Sixers should look to bury this game early and create as much rest for the starters as possible.

Especially if Lavine and Vucevic are unable to go, this is a game in which the Sixers are the better all-around team. Chicago has a solid young nucleus and will likely be a playoff team next season, but they are currently projected to land the seventh pick in the draft so their focus remains on the future.

The Sixers have matched up with the Bulls twice already this season with the Sixers getting the upper hand on each occasion. The first game was not easy for the Sixers as it took a career-high 50-point performance from Joel Embiid to secure the 112-105 victory. However, the Sixers were able to take down a full-strength Bulls roster by a 22 point margin in the second matchup even without Embiid and Ben Simmons on the court.

The Bucks’ victory over the Nets yesterday was able to hand the first seed back over to the Sixers which is extremely important. With eight games remaining, the Sixers must be focused on having their best effort every game in order to secure their easiest path through the playoffs.

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire