Chicago’s final game before the All-Star break wasn’t a memorable one, as they went down 98-122 to Toronto. Bobby Portis top scored with 18 points and their defense failed to cope with the plethora of weapons present in the Raptors’ offense. The Bulls are in a seven-team race for the worst record in the NBA. Currently, they sit in 12th place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 20-37, though they are just three games off bottom spot.
In contrast, the 76ers are fighting for a playoff spot. They are currently in seventh place with a record of 30-25, and hold a three-game buffer over the Pistons in ninth. Prior to the All-Star break, they went on a five-game winning streak, which culminated in a 104-102 win over the Heat. The win came in the absence of Joel Embiid, and saw Ben Simmons collect yet another triple-double.
Three keys to the game
Conflicting motivations - These two teams couldn’t be further apart in terms of their motivations for this game. The 76ers are trying to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2012 and are poised to do so if they continue to win. In contrast, the Bulls have every reason to lose, and are embroiled in what may be the most memorable race for the worst record in the NBA in recent memory.
76ers form - The past five games have seen Philadelphia play some of their best basketball for the season. Their offense has improved, with their rating on this end, which is 105.4 for the season, sitting at 108.2 during this period. More impressive has been their defense. Solid all year, in the past five games it has been the league’s best. They allow just 93.7 points per 100 possessions in this stretch, four points less than the nearest team.
Turnovers - The 76ers have been the worst team in the NBA at taking care of the basketball this season. They turn it over on 17.1% of possessions, 1.5% more than the second team in the league. Fortunately for them, Chicago aren’t a team likely to make them pay for this. The Bulls score just 14.1 points per game off turnovers, which is less than every team in the league barring the Brooklyn Nets.
Matchup to watch
Kris Dunn vs Ben Simmons - Dunn returned from an extend injury layoff last week, and though he scored just eight points in 20 minutes of game time, he has shown enormous improvement throughout the season. As the Bulls starting point guard, he has averaged 13.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, 6.3 assists and two steals, all of which are comfortably career highs. He will have his work cut out, though, against an even younger, even better star of the competition. In his first playing season in the NBA, he has averaged 16.4 points on 52.7% shooting, 7.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, and 1.9 steals, and can count himself extremely unlucky to have missed out on a spot in the All-Star game.
Chicago Bulls predicted starting lineup
PG - Kris Dunn | SG - Zach LaVine | SF - Justin Holiday | PF - Lauri Markkanen | C - Robin Lopez
Philadelphia 76ers predicted starting lineup
PG - Ben Simmons | SG - JJ Redick | SF - Robert Covington | PF - Dario Saric | C - Joel Embiid
In two games against the Bulls this season, and the only two against them in his career, Simmons has had two triple doubles, including an enormous 19-point, 17-rebound and 14-assist effort in January. His averages in these games reads 19 points, 14 rebounds, 12 assists, and three blocks. Not a bad start to his career against Chicago.
The Bulls have been given just a 5.5-point head start in this game, which won’t be enough. Philadelphia are a much better team to start with, but combine that with the fact that they have plenty to play for and Chicago are better served losing, and the 76ers look like a good bet to cover this line.
Philadelphia should have no troubles winning this one, and will make it six wins in a row. Embiid will be full of confidence after a successful debut performance in the All-Star game, while Simmons will be eager to show why he deserved to play in the game. So far this season, the Bulls have been unable to stop the talented Australian, and expect him to go close to another triple double in this matchup.
The 76ers will blow away the Bulls early in this one, and though Chicago will claw back to make the scoreboard look respectable, they’ll still be beaten soundly. Philadelphia will win 111-99.
The game will be broadcast locally on NBCSCH and NBCSP+. Tip-off is at 8pm ET.