Bulls Beat 76ers 111-88, Drop Sixers to 0-7

Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls beat the 76ers 111-88 last night at the Wells Fargo Center. The loss is the Sixers' 7th straight to start the season.

Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls defeated the Sixers 111-88 Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center | Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls defeated the Sixers 111-88 Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center | Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The 76ers are a team that’s going to struggle to remain competitive when injuries to their core strike.

That’s almost by design, as the Sixers have focused the majority of their effort on acquiring the talent at the top of their roster in an effort to build a core, then used the remaining roster spots to try to find and develop diamonds in the rough on cheap, long-term deals.

So when the Sixers found out that Nerlens Noel would not be able to play because of sore wrists, after already having the knowledge that they would continue to be without one of their best offensive players in Robert Covington, you knew it would be a struggle against the Chicago Bulls.

Heading into last night’s game, life without Nerlens Noel had been a struggle for the Sixers’ defense. With Noel on the court, the Sixers have held opponents to 100.5 points per 100 possessions, a number which would rank 17th in the NBA this season. Without Noel on the court anchoring the defense that drops to 116.4 points per 100 possessions, well below the 111.9 the league-worst New Orleans Pelicans give up.

The rest of the stats paint a similar picture: opponents shoot 44.7% from the field when Noel is in the game, 48.6% when he’s not. The Sixers force teams into 14 turnovers per 48 minutes when Noel plays, only 12.3 when he doesn’t. They grab 79.9% of the defensive rebounding opportunities available to them with Noel on the court, a dismal 67.5% when he’s on the bench.

Despite that, the Sixers competed for a stretch of the game, using a 20-4 first half run to momentarily take a 36-35 lead. The run included 9 combined points by backup big men Richaun Holes (6 points, making the first start of his career) and Christian Wood (3), and three pointers by Isaiah Canaan, Nik Stauskas, and Hollis Thompson on the perimeter.

That success was something the Sixers couldn’t sustain, however. After a Jerami Grant bucket pulled the Sixers back to within two at 44-42, the Bulls ended the quarter on an 8-1 run and would go on to maintain a double digit lead for the majority of the second half.

Sixers rookie Jahlil Okafor struggled from the field, shooting only 9-25 for his 21 points. Outside of the Jazz game it’s the only time during his seven game career that he’s really struggled to score efficiently, which is an amazing accomplishment in itself for a 19 year old carrying such a heavy offensive burden.

With Noel and Covington out, Sixers head coach Brett Brown relied heavily on Okafor in the half-court offense, with Okafor carrying a usage rate of 36.7% in the game. Okafor struggled at times against the length of 7′ center Pau Gasol, especially early in the game, where Okafor shot just 2-12 from the field in the first half and had his shot blocked 3 times.

Still, Okafor was able to generate a number of close looks at the basket. They were shots that, despite not going in, Brown was happy with.

“I thought his shots were great. Those shots that he was missing they are [typical] Jahlil Okafor makes,” head coach Brett Brown said after the game. “Jahlil was always a part of that focus offensively, even with the numbers he produced in the first half, which was very un-Jahlil Okafor like.”

Some of those shots that were rimming out in the first half started falling in the second half, where Okafor scored 17 points on 7-13 shooting from the field.

One area where Okafor made a concerted effort to contribute more, especially with Noel out, was on the defensive glass. Okafor, who had collected just 17 rebounds over his previous three games combined, hauled in 15 rebounds in only 31 minutes of play against the Bulls, 9 of which came on the defensive side of the court.

“We’ve talked a lot to him about trying to identify the few areas that really can make him great, because he has a gift of scoring,” Brown said after the game. “For me to see him respond the way he did and make a great effort to fix [rebounding] and get better at that, I’m proud of that side of his performance tonight.”

“Credit goes to coach,” Okafor told reporters after the game. “He wanted to see me be a better rebounder because scoring came easy for me. I was focused and I tried really hard to rebound as best as I can.”

In previous games, Okafor explained, he was more focused on preventing his own man from getting the rebound than he was in getting it himself. That changed for Okafor last night.

The Sixers still didn’t rebound all that well as a team, as the Bulls grabbed 28.1% of their offensive rebounding opportunities with Okafor on the court, a number which would rank near the bottom of the league for the season. Still, if Okafor can maintain that level of focus on the glass when Noel returns, it could bode well for the Sixers going forward.

The Sixers struggled to defend the perimeter, allowing the Bulls to go 10-25 from three point range. Forwards Nikola Mirotic (3-7 from three, 20 points) and Doug McDermott (3-6, 18 points) especially caused the Sixers fits. That, combined with an offense that scored just 88 points on 100 field goal attempts produced a lopsided final result.

The loss drops the Sixers to 0-7 on the season, leaving them as one of three teams, along with Brooklyn (0-7) and New Orleans (0-6) , who have yet to record a victory. The loss also extends the Sixers losing streak to 17 games, as the team lost the final 10 games last year.

With tough games coming up against the Toronto Raptors (Wednesday), Oklahoma City Thunder (Friday, on the road), and San Antonio Spurs (Saturday, also on the road), there’s a very real chance the Sixers start the season off with a double digit losing streak for the second consecutive year.

Odds and Ends:

* Guard Nik Stauskas continues to struggle with his shot, as he shot just 1-7 from three point range and 2-13 overall last night. After starting the season on target from three point range (5-12 in his first two games), Stauskas has shot just 24% (9-37) since. The frustrating part is that many of these shots are open: Stauskas is shooting just 4-16 on shots where the closest defender is 4-6′ away from him, according to NBA.com/Stats. “They’re just not going in,” Stauskas said after the game. “I just have to get more reps in in practice, get my confidence back, and just string a few together where they start going and it’ll start opening up.”

* After averaging 20 points per game and shooting just under 53% from three point range in his previous two games, Isaiah Canaan was a non-factor last night. The guard from Murray State attempted only five shots in the game and connected on only one, a three pointer.

* Both Richaun Holmes (11 points on 4-9 shooting, 3 rebounds, 2 blocks) and Christian Wood (9 points on 4–10, 8 rebounds) showed flashes, but both struggled to contest outside shots when matched up with Chicago’s perimeter forwards.

* The Sixers shot just 5-25 from three point range. Especially on a night when they’re not forcing many turnovers (just 6 steals), they’re not going to win many games like that.

* It would be easy to pin this defensive effort on Jahlil Okafor, as the Sixers gave up 113.5 points per 100 possessions when he was on the court last night. But that offensive production from the Bulls came mostly on the perimeter, as they shot 53.3% from three point range while Okafor was on the court. After re-watching the three point makes, only one could really be attributed to Okafor. Okafor struggled at times to defend the pick and roll, and gave up good position to Gasol early on, but the Bulls shot only 42.1% on shots at the rim, and Okafor blocked 2 shots, the 3rd time in the last four games he’s swatted at least 2 shots.

* Phil Pressey, picked up by the 76ers after they were granted a hardship exception which allowed them to temporarily expand their roster to 16 because of injury, had his best game of the season. Pressey scored 11 points to go along with 5 assists in his 13 minutes of play.

* Injury update: before the game Sixers head coach Brett Brown said they were hopeful to have Nerlens Noel back when they take on the Toronto Raptors Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center. He said they were targeting a potential Saturday return at San Antonio for Robert Covington return. Covington has appeared in only one game so far this season because of a knee injury.

Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine’s new Sixers Post. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.