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Game Thread #67: Bulls at Philadelphia 76ers

[Thanks to Mike for tonight's game preview. He'll be taking over for the rest of the week, as I'm going to be in Vegas pretending I know anything about college basketball. -Matt]

The Bulls will go for their fourth straight win tonight against an improved Sixers team that had its own seven game win streak snapped last night by the Atlanta Hawks. The Bulls improved to 8-3 since the All Star break last night with a 95-87 win over the Celtics.

If you had told me before last night's game that Ben Wallace and Tyrus Thomas would combine for 35 shot attempts and the Bulls would still win I would have accused you of smoking crack. But Thomas had the best game of his young career with 23 points and 9 boards, with many of his points coming off alley oops. Just a few months ago, Thomas was being talked about as a throw-in in a potential trade for Pau Gasol or Kevin Garnett, but Tyrus' recent play may have solidified him as a keeper. Take a look at some of his season splits:

Situation G Min FGM FGA Pct 3PM 3PA Pct FTM FTA Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
Pre All-Star 46 10:41 1.3 3.0 42.9 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 1.9 55.3 1.0 1.9 2.9 0.4 1.2 0.5 1.0 2.1 3.6
Post All-Star 11 17:06 3.0 5.3 56.9 0.0 0.0 0.0 2.5 4.0 61.4 0.9 3.7 4.6 0.5 2.4 0.8 1.4 2.7 8.5
As Starter 4 20:18 3.0 5.3 57.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.8 2.5 70.0 1.5 4.3 5.8 0.5 3.5 1.0 3.5 4.5 7.8
March 6 21:48 3.7 6.5 56.4 0.0 0.0 0.0 3.0 5.2 58.1 1.0 5.2 6.2 0.5 3.7 1.2 1.5 3.2 10.3

Thomas has clearly stepped up his game since the All-Star game. His March numbers may be a bit skewed by last night's performance, but the trend is promising. With Nocioni out, Thomas has provided a much needed spark off the bench. If he continues to play well, it wouldn't be a stretch to see him starting when Nocioni returns. (3.5 blocks per game in 4 starts this season!)

Everything is falling into place for the Bulls to finish the season on a nice run. Their upcoming schedule is favorable, with five of their next six games against teams with sub-.500 records. They've played two more games than the Raptors and Cavs and four more games that the Wizards and Pistons, so there's a good chance they'll gain some ground in the standings while being idle. And yesterday Malik Allen and Martynas Andriuskevicius were cleared for practice and Andres Nocioni had his protective boot removed. So the Bulls should be at full-strength for key games against the Pistons, Cavs and Wizards.

Philly is making its own playoff push, as unlikely as that seems. After starting the season 5-18 (including 1-1 against the Bulls), the Sixers are 20-21 since trading Allen Iverson to the Nuggets. Andre Iguodala has blossomed into a star, averaging 24.5 pts, 7.2 reb, 5.5 ast and 3.3 stl in March. With Indy and Orlando tanking and New Jersey playing .500 ball, the Sixers have an outside shot to grab the 8th seed.

Blogging with the Enemy
Roland Laird over at Sixers Shots laments the recent press coverage (or lack thereof) of the improved Sixers, while Tom Ziller at AOL Sports Blogs says the Sixers' future would be bright... except for the fact that Billy King is running the show.

Tonight's game starts at 6:00pm on WGN.