7 p.m. CDT; NBC Sports Chicago
Sixers star Joel Embiid won’t play tonight as Philadelphia continues to exercise caution on back-to-backs with their often-injured big man. He also experienced back tightness in practice on Sunday. Amir Johnson will start in his place. Recent acquisition Trevor Booker will also be missing from the Sixers frontcourt tonight.
On the Bulls injury front, the back spasms are spreading but “The Finnisher” may make his version of #thereturn tonight.
Markkanen did shootaround, on track to start vs. 76ers.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) December 18, 2017
It’s The Process versus the GarPax.
Someday, the Bulls hope to have a stockpile of young weapons as lethal as the one that the Sixers have compiled. Though if they continue to win games (currently third in the tank race) the Bulls will have one asset of lower-value than expected earlier in the season, and unlike The Process they don’t have a cache of incoming extra picks or pick swap rights.
Inexplicably, the Bulls have won five in a row behind stellar play from best friends forever Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis. The former has averaged 20 points per game on 53.8 percent from the field in this stretch, while Portis’ two highest scoring games of his career have come during the Bulls current win streak. If Lauri Markkanen returns tonight we’ll see some impact on Mirotic and Portis’s minutes. Markkanen was the starter, though his shooting numbers cooled off considerably prior to this injury.
On the Sixers front, technical-rookie Ben Simmons has been as good as advertised when Philadelphia drafted him in 2016. The 6-foot-10-inch Australia native has averaged 17.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 7.9 assists commandeering the offense as the point guard. He’s keeping guys like Lauri Markkanen and Donovan Mitchell from receiving serious consideration for the Rookie of the Year award.
Robert Covington, one of the most underrated players in the NBA, is fourth on the Sixers in scoring with 15.1 points per game. He joins guard J.J. Redick (17 points per game; 38.4 percent from 3-point land), Jerryd Bayless (9.0 points per game), and Trevor Booker (11.5 points per game) as the veteran presence on a talented Sixers team with an average age of 25.3 (tied for sixth youngest in the NBA).
Dario Saric not only has one of the coolest names in the entire NBA, but he’s averaged 11.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game in his age 23 season.
Is there enough talent on this Sixers team without Embiid and Markelle Fultz to score a win against a juggernaut Chicago Bulls team?
Probably not. Nobody beats the Niko-led Bulls.