Sixers Look to Bounce Back Against Road-Weary Bulls
The Sixers lost a disappointing one on Wednesday night, falling in double overtime to the Memphis Grizzlies in what would have been their best win of the season.
They’ll look to rebound tonight against the 9-6 Chicago Bulls, and they’ll do so without star center Joel Embiid, who has tonight off for rest. The Sixers are in the middle of a four games in seven nights stretch, and they want to be cautious with Embiid’s workload as he returns to NBA action.
The Sixers will face a surprising Chicago Bulls team, albeit one who is wrapping up a 6 game, mostly Western Conference (outside of the Sixers) road trip, which could work in the Sixers favor.
What: Sixers (4-11) vs Bulls (9-6)
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
When: Friday, November 25th at 7:30 PM Eastern
Watch: Comcast SportsNet
Projected Starting Lineups:
Sixers: Jerryd Bayless, Hollis Thompson (?), Robert Covington, Ersan Ilyasova, Jahlil Okafor
Bulls: Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Robin Lopez
(Note: Official starting lineups are released approximately one hour before the game).
Sixers: Ben Simmons (out, fractured right foot), Nerlens Noel (out, knee), Gerald Henderson (unsure, illness), Richaun Holmes (unsure, illness)
Bulls: Michael Carter-Williams (out, knee), Doug McDermott (out, concussion).
About The Opponent:
The Bulls’ offseason — which consisted of signing Rajon Rondo to a two-year, $27 million contract (only the first year guaranteed) and Dwyane Wade to a two-year, $47 million contract — was questioned by many, myself included. While it’s too early to call the offseason a success, the Bulls 9-6 start to the season has been quite the surprise.
The shooting, the primary concern of the Rondo, Wade, Jimmy Butler perimeter trio, has been better than expected. The Bulls still don’t attempt many three-point shots, ranking 27th in the league at 21.2 three-point attempts per game, but the 34.6 percent they’ve made has been acceptable. They’ve by and large overcome their shoot deficiencies by protecting the ball (7th in turnover rate), hitting the offensive glass (1st in the league), and getting to the free-throw line (8th in free-throw rate), which has all combined for the 6th best offense in the league despite ranking 21st in the league in field goal percentage.
On top of that, the Bulls have been an above average defensive team, ranking 12th in points allowed per 100 possessions. They don’t force all that many turnovers, but they contest shots and don’t put the opponent at the free-throw line for easy points.
Despite the additions of Wade and Rondo in the offseason, Jimmy Butler continues to steer the ship. Butler’s averaging 25.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game, while continuing his development into a legitimate (42.3 percent) three-point shooter and playing exceptional defense. Wade has experienced a rebirth as well, with a reduced role (27.1 percent usage rate, his lowest since 2003-04), but lowered turnovers (3.2 per 100 possessions, the lowest of his career) and increased proficiency from deep (38.8 percent, the best of his career).
Rondo continue to be an enigma, with solid per-game averages (7.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 7.2 assists) but no outside shot and atrocious off-the-ball defense. Rondo can be baited into chasing steals, and the Sixers will have to be cognizant of that tonight.
The Bulls also “feature” a pair of former Sixer guards, having acquired Michael Carter-Williams in a trade this October and signed Isaiah Canaan this past offseason. Carter-Williams will not be available tonight (knee), but Canaan has been averaging nearly 20 minutes per night off the bench for the Bulls so far, averaging 7.0 points per game, although he’s shooting just 31.4 percent from three-point range on the young season.
What To Look For:
The Bulls are finishing up the final game of a brutal six game road trip, and that should present the Sixers with an opportunity to take advantage of a road-weary team.
Still, the Sixers chances would be much better if Joel Embiid were playing, but he will sit this one out for rest. That will place Jahlil Okafor into the starting lineup, and the Sixers will need a much better effort from their second-year big man than they got on Wednesday night (2 points, 1 rebounds, 3 turnovers on 1-6 shooting in 26 minutes).
That dreadful performance on the glass means Okafor is grabbing just 8.9 percent of the rebounds available while he’s been on the court, and just 11.9 percent of the available defensive rebounds, output comparable to that of a small forward, not a center frequently on the court as the only traditional post player in the lineup. Beyond Okafor’s struggles in the pick and roll, he’s going to have to pick up his rebounding production if the Sixers want to compete tonight.
Speaking of the pick and roll, which Okafor has been torched in of late, the Bulls are a relatively strong pick and roll team. Not traditionally, as Rajon Rondo isn’t a threat to score off pick and rolls, but Jimmy Butler and Dwayne Wade are, and they are the Bulls primary ball handlers in pick and roll sets. The Sixers will need to find a way to neutralize Butler and Wade, especially with their career-best perimeter shooting.
Outside of Okafor starting in place of Embiid there’s another change Brett Brown has made to the starting lineup, this one more long-term in nature as Brown will start veteran Jerryd Bayless at the point. Bayless was signed to a three-year contract over the offseason to be the team’s starting point guard, but an injury in training camp caused him to miss the first few weeks of the season. Bayless has appeared in the Sixers last two games, having made his season debut on Monday.
Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.