Joel Embiid

Bulls observations: Zach LaVine catches fire, but Bulls fall short vs. 76ers

Bulls observations: Zach LaVine catches fire, but Bulls fall short vs. 76ers

For a time, the Bulls hung around with the Sixers on the road, but ultimately fell 118-111 in a familiar feeling loss. Here's some observations:

Furkan Korkmaz: Destroyer of Bulls

Korkmaz was out of his Furkan mind tonight. And not for the first time. Remember: He dropped 24 points and six 3-pointers (both career-highs at the time) against the Bulls on Jan. 17, and just last week, broke both those marks with a 34-point, seven 3-pointer outing against the Grizzlies. 

Tonight, he came out scorching hot from the jump, scoring 17 points and canning four 3-pointers in the first quarter alone. Then, with the Bulls surging in the fourth, he ripped off five quick points to put the Sixers up 10 with just under four minutes to play. He finished the night with 31 points on 12-for-17 shooting (6-for-11 from 3). Sheesh.

Ben Simmons submitted another all-encompassing performance against the Bulls, as well. He finished with 19 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists, and was devastating both facilitating on the run and finishing at the rim. That’s his fourth triple-double in eight career games against Chicago.

A fine night for the fill-ins

Without Wendell Carter Jr. and Daniel Gafford (who was ‘available’ but didn’t see the floor), the Bulls got solid enough offensive production out of their centers against one of the more forceful frontcourts in the NBA.

Luke Kornet kept the Bulls afloat out of the gate — scoring eight of the team’s first 10 points and hitting two 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the game — but picked up two fouls in the process. Cristiano Felicio played nicely in his stead for a while, notching 11 points and six rebounds on 5-for-6 shooting in the opening two quarters.

On the game, those two combined for 38 points, with 25 of those coming from Kornet (though he corralled just two rebounds). And as a team, the Bulls managed to hang around in the interior battle, scoring 54 paint points to the Sixers’ 52 and losing the glass just 44-42.

But defensively, they weren’t enough to handle Joel Embiid for four quarters. Embiid shot just 2-for-7 from the field in the first half, but responded with 18 points and eight rebounds in the second half, including a backbreaking and-one that effectively put the Bulls to bed, late. On a night he wasn’t his best, Embiid finished with 28 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and three steals, and went to the foul line 14 times. 

Zach LaVine snapped out of a mini-funk

LaVine has been in something of a funk (by his lofty standards), of late. In his last five games prior to this one, he averaged 21 points per contest on just 39.6% shooting (18.8% from 3) — a stretch the Bulls went 1-4 in.

But, on the road against a top-tier defense, he achieved human torch status tonight. In an especially infernic spurt, LaVine scored or assisted on 25 of 30 Bulls points between the 2:09 mark of the second quarter and the 3:23 mark of the third — a run he capped off with back-to-back pull-up 3-pointers from the parking lot. He finished with 15 points and five long-balls in the third.

  

As LaVine warmed, the Bulls flipped a 15-point first half deficit into a level score entering the fourth quarter. The third quarter has been a plague on the Bulls to this point in the season, but tonight, they outscored Philly 28-23 in the period, spurred by their long-range shooting (5-for-11 from deep, all five makes by LaVine) and transition buckets (they had an 11-5 advantage on the fastbreak in the period). 

LaVine finished the night with 32 points on 11-for-21 in 40 minutes of action in a game he had been listed questionable for with neck stiffness. Though it didn’t result in a win, any critiques of him only slaying bums can wait for another day. It’s Lavine’s seventh 30-point game of the season, and his eight assists, three steals and two blocks give reason to be encouraged by the state of his all-around game.

"It all [speaks] to his maturity and his development. I met him at the bus this morning at 9:30, he went over and shot, he was the only guy that went over and shot, and he got himself ready to play," Bulls coach Jim Boylen said. "And I thought he played great. Proud of him."

“If I feel like I can play, I’m going to play. Obviously, it hurts. But I felt pretty good out there. And once adrenalin gets going... I’m good, man,” LaVine said. “I don’t like missing games. Since I hurt myself and I had to miss all those games, it takes a toll on you. I love basketball. I’m gonna go out there and play if I can.”

Another good team, another tough loss

The Sixers pulled away in the fourth quarter, though, making 10 of their first 13 shots in the frame and ultimately outscoring the Bulls 35-28 (while shooting 63.6%). On a night the Bulls shot nearly 50% from the field and 40% from 3, they couldn’t get the stops they needed down the stretch to get over the hump.

It's a familiar-feeling loss, but hardly a surprising one. The Sixers (now 24-2 at Wells Fargo Arena) own the most commanding homecourt advantage in the league, and the Bulls remain about as undermanned as one could imagine. In that vein, tonight was another discouraging one for the defense: Philadelphia scored 118 points, shot 50% from the field (40.7% from 3), dished 29 assists and took 32 free throws. When engaged, the hosts got just about everything they wanted, offensively.

"I thought they made a few more shots, I thought they got the ball to Embiid deep," Boylen said of the fourth (Embiid had 12 of his 28 in the final frame). "They got a good basketball team." 

Here's something else that felt familiar:

It was a more entertaining and competitive game than it seemed it would be coming in, but ultimately, the night ends with the Bulls losers of five straight and 3-21 against teams at or above-.500 (those two extra wins come by virtue of the Grizzlies moving to their current 26-26 sitting). Talks of a last-gasp playoff push stall yet again, as the team moved to a season-high 16 games under .500. The season inches one step closer to a breaking point with the All-Star break around the corner.

Next up: the Wizards in D.C. on Tuesday.

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Zach LaVine is available, but the Bulls face a tough test in Philadelphia 76ers

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USA Today

Zach LaVine is available, but the Bulls face a tough test in Philadelphia 76ers

The Bulls march into Philadelphia losers of four straight and with their season in the balance. With Joel Embiid and Zach LaVine both available, here's what to watch for when the two square off on NBC Sports Chicago at 5 p.m. CT:

76ers’ last five games (1-4)

  • Feb. 7 — W vs. Grizzlies: 119-107

  • Feb. 6 — L at Bucks: 112-101

  • Feb. 3 — L at Heat: 137-106

  • Feb. 1 — L at Celtics: 116-95

  • Jan. 30 — L at Hawks: 127-117

Home cookin’

The Sixers’ home-road record disparity is among the more puzzling storylines in the league this season. Philadelphia owns the best home record in the NBA (23-2), yet enter play only 32-21 due to a 9-18 mark on the road. The last time these two played, I tabled a few glaring Sixers home-road statistical splits. Here’s what those look like now:

  Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating 3P%
Home 111.4 (16th) 101.4 (1st) +10.0 (3rd) 37.6 (8th)
Road 105.2 (25th) 110.3 (11th) -5.0 (24th) 33.6 (26th)

Philly is fresh off a winless four-game road swing that featured blowout losses to the Celtics and Heat, and even a double-digit defeat at the hands of the lowly Hawks. But, back in the city of brotherly love, they got back on track in thumping the Grizzlies on Friday. Mired in a lackluster stretch of play and with rumors of an unhappy locker room swirling, there’ll be urgency to keep that momentum going against an inferior opponent in the Bulls.

Sidebar: Furkan Korkmaz scored a career-high 34 points in that Grizzlies game, setting a single-game career-high with seven 3-pointers. Korkmaz led all scorers and canned a then-career-high six 3-pointers when the Sixers toppled the Bulls 100-89 in Philadelphia on Jan. 17, and is shooting 42.5% from deep on 7.3 attempts per game since that night. Beware.

Can the Bulls stymie a defensive downturn?

For the first two-and-a-half months of the season, the Bulls hung their hats on a highly-rated defense, even amidst ups and downs in the win-loss column. But injuries have doomed that silver lining; as of this morning, the team’s defensive rating has slipped to 11th in the NBA, and the numbers since Wendell Carter Jr. (on Jan. 6) and Kris Dunn (on Jan. 31) went down are alarming:

The Sixers are, for the most part, a clunky offensive team in the halfcourt, but these undermanned Bulls represent a juicy matchup. Since Carter went down, the Bulls are dead last in the league in opponent field goal percentage (51.2%), and the Sixers have the perfect blend of size, athleticism and physicality to bring the hurt. A win would be surprising, but could vault the Bulls back into the playoff race — they're still somehow just three games out of the eighth seed, which they've maintained as a goal.

Injury report

  • Joel Embiid, who had been questionable after leaving that aforementioned Grizzlies game with neck stiffness, is officially available. The Bulls were fortunate to miss him in their first meetup with Philly, but he’ll get the benefit of facing an depleted Bulls center rotation highlighted by Luke Kornet and Cristiano Felicio in this one.

  • For the Bulls, Zach LaVine and Daniel Gafford are both officially available. Gafford provides some much-needed help on the interior, and LaVine is just about the only thing that keeps the Bulls offense afloat on a game-to-game basis.

  • Denzel Valentine is inactive with hamstring tightness. This will be his second missed game in a row, leaving the Bulls with 11 healthy bodies for this one. 

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Even without Joel Embiid, 76ers' wings will give shorthanded Bulls fits

Even without Joel Embiid, 76ers' wings will give shorthanded Bulls fits

The Bulls are shooting for their second win in a row, but the Joel Embiid-less Philadelphia 76ers stand in their way. The game tips off at 6 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here's what to watch for:

76ers’ last five games (3-2)

  • Jan. 15 — W vs. Nets: 117-106

  • Jan. 13 — L at Pacers: 101-95

  • Jan. 11 — L at Mavericks: 109-91

  • Jan. 9 — W vs. Celtics: 109-98

  • Jan. 6 — W vs. Thunder: 120-113

Storyline(s) to watch

Billed by many as true title contenders and the favorites to come out of the East, the Sixers’ (26-16) season has been of the hot-and-cold variety so far. Fortunately for people like me, it’s pretty easy to delineate when they’ll be which temperature: Philadelphia is 19-2 on its home floor in 2019-20 while just 7-14 on the road, and some of the statistical disparities are positively gaping:

  Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating 3P% TOV per game
Home 112.1 (9th) 102.5 (3rd) 9.6 (5th) 37.5% (7th) 14.4 (15th)
Road 105.9 (22nd) 109 (11th) -3.1 (18th) 33.5% (24th) 15.1 (18th)

Still, the Sixers are a suffocating defensive team with a litany of impressive wins under their belt (chiefly, their Christmas Day romp of the Bucks). And unfortunately for the Bulls, this one will take place in the city of brotherly love. A second straight win, and one against an above-.500 team, would be a major boost, but the Sixers’ impossible length and physicality make them a daunting matchup.

Player(s) to watch: Sixers’ wings

Without Joel Embiid (torn hand ligament), the Sixers will likely trot out a starting unit of Josh Richardson, Matisse Thybulle, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Al Horford. Though the absence of a ‘traditional’ point guard isn’t new to Philly, this type of roster construction — wing-heavy, and big wings, at that — poses an intriguing challenge for a Bulls defense that thrives when it can hone in on the head of their opponent’s snake in the pick-and-roll.

Well, the Sixers run just 13.9 pick-and-roll plays per game — second-least in the NBA to only the iso-crazed Rockets — and with good reason: they score just 0.8 points per possession on such plays. Instead, their playmakers outside of Embiid make their living from the post and elbows (Horford, Harris), off-the-dribble (Simmons), and spotting up (Richardson, Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz and Trey Burke). The spacing can get clunky (Philly’s 109 offensive rating ranks 18th in the league), but against the undersized and undermanned Bulls, they could feast anyway.

Simmons and Harris will be key. In the four games since Embiid went down, Simmons is averaging 18.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and seven assists on 58.9% shooting, and is devastating in transition, where the Bulls have been prone to lapses defensively. Harris is a capable shotmaker at all three levels (especially the interior) and is coming off his second-highest scoring outing of the season against the Nets:

 

Matchup to watch: Zach LaVine vs. Sixers’ perimeter defenders

Now let’s flip to the other side of the floor. That presumptive starting unit of Richardson, Thybulle, Simmons, Harris and Horford enters the night with a respectable 105.5 defensive rating and superb 19.3% turnover rate (94th percentile) in 141 possessions together, per Cleaning the Glass. The Bulls will have to work for every bucket, with little to no margin for error.

Luckily, Zach LaVine’s been on a tear of late, averaging 32 points per game on 52.3/45.7/93.1 shooting splits over his last five. Unluckily, Thybulle, Richardson and Simmons (who’s leading the league in steals per game) don’t give an inch, especially around screens. Even when you think you’ve lost them, all three have shown the ability to block shots and poke away balls from behind — on Wednesday, they pestered Kyrie Irving all night long and held him to 14 points and 6-for-21 shooting.

LaVine has been up to most every scoring-related task that he’s been faced with this season, but in Philadelphia lies perhaps his greatest test. Even if the Bulls don’t pull out a win akin to their 108-107 primetime victory (in which LaVine dropped 39 and the game-winner) last March, he can still submit another bid for February’s All-Star game with a big night against stingy competition.

Injury report

  • Chandler Hutchison (right shoulder soreness) is officially listed as questionable, though he said at shootaround Thursday that he thought he “dodged a bullet” after falling hard on his shoulder in the fourth quarter of the Wizards game. The Bulls need his size and range tonight.

  • Joel Embiid is out with a torn ligament in his right hand and is set to be re-evaluated next week.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.