PHILADELPHIA—Survive and advance.
That's the mantra—or at least it should be for the Chicago Bulls as they trudge through the last road trip of the season, trying to wipe the bad taste from their mouths after an ugly loss to the woeful New York Knicks Tuesday night.
And as the equally-dreadful Philadelphia 76ers gave the Bulls another chance for them not to play down to their level of competition, the Bulls emerged with a ugly 102-90 win at Wells Fargo Arena in Philadelphia Thursday night.
The win keeps pace with Miami and Indiana at the seventh spot in the East with three games remaining.
"That's it man," said Jimmy Butler, who put up his second triple-double of the season with 19 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. "We don't care how we do it, how many points we score, how many stops we get. Whenever you win, that's all you want this time of year."
Butler had to take additional playmaking duties with Rajon Rondo sidelined with a wrist injury, but needed help from his one-night wingman, Nikola Mirotic, to secure the Westbrookian feat.
With nine assists, Butler didn't deny the statistical accomplishment was in his mind with the game essentially in hand.
"I definitely (knew)," Butler said. "Niko said, you need one more?"
Butler replied, then Mirotic issued the directive that displayed the confidence of a new man this time of year.
"Okay then throw it to me. You throw it to me, I'll shoot it," Mirotic told Butler.
Catch, fire, swish.
Mirotic had his best game since the calendar turned to April with 22 points and seven rebounds, as the triple with less than three minutes left to give the Bulls a 15-point lead, essentially ending any thought of a 76ers threat.
"My shot is feeling great right now. Even though I take tough shots, deep shots, I feel like I'm gonna make them," Mirotic said. "When you make a shot, it's time to shoot. When you don't, try to find a way to make a play. It's going good so far and that's all that matters."
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The 76ers shot 21 percent from the 3-point line and considering they had very little to lose, being in the lottery and playing out the string, hoisted up 33 attempts, refusing to alter their approach when it was clear nobody had a shot going.
The Bulls held rookie Dario Saric to nine points on three of eight shooting in 22 minutes, a stark contrast to his 32-point, 10-rebound showing that he'll use on his Rookie of the Year highlight tape for the media voting on the award.
Tim Luwawu-Cabarrot led the 76ers with 18 points and Justin Anderson scored 17 for the 76ers, a team that beat the Bulls soundly at the United Center a short time ago.
But the two leading scorers combined to go 12 for 26 and three for 12 from the 3-point line, hardly a model of efficiency.
It contributed to shooting 35 percent on the night, but they stayed in the game with pesky play, forcing 16 Bulls turnovers and routinely getting to loose balls quicker than the team that apparently has something to play for.
Holding a 40-26 lead, the 76ers crept back in to slice it in half before the half, and when the Bulls restored order at 68-52 midway through the third, the 76ers cut it to single-digits three times but did little more than hang around.
"When you get that lead and go up 16, I'd love one night to push that thing up to 25 and rest some guys a little bit," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We can't be satisfied, we gotta go into Brooklyn with the mindset that we have to battle."
Jerian Grant gave the coaching staff something to think about after getting his first taste of significant playing time since being benched for Rondo last month.
Bashful he was not, scoring from the perimeter and being aggressive on drives to the basket—playing with a sense of freedom that belies the fact he doesn't know what will happen to his role when Rondo returns, scoring 15 points in 31 minutes.
"I thought he had some aggressive takes to the basket," Hoiberg said. "For being in and out the rotation, he's only gotten a little time to get out there and play. To step in for a guy and fill those shoes isn't easy. I thought Jerian played very solid tonight."
Aesthetically pleasing it was not, per custom with the Bulls. Whether the implementation of their 21st starting lineup in 79 games or the 76ers having a roster full of players not usually associated with NBA basketball, they certainly didn't seem the least bit aroused.
There were stretches where the Bulls looked serious about things but the malaise and sloppiness was far more common. Taking a double-digit lead meant giving it right back in a quick manner to make the 76ers feel like they were at home and belonged on the floor with the Bulls.
But they could only masquerade but for so long, as the Bulls pulled away and stayed away, looking ahead to their last road game of the regular season.
On to Brooklyn.