It's going to be an interesting game when the Chicago Bulls visit the City of Brotherly Love to take on the Philadelphia 76ers. Chicago managed to beat the Sixers in the Windy City by a 93-88 margin on December 1, so the raucous Philly crowd will surely want vengeance entering tonight.
Believe it or not, they may get it. Evan Turner has done a fine job stepping up in the absence of Andrew Bynum, and so has his teammate Jrue Holiday. Philadelphia is a fine young team despite their collective inexperience, and they have rectified last year's flaws in that they now have players willing to be the star in crunch time.
The Bulls should not be counted out. Even without star point man Derrick Rose, they are still in first place in the Central Division, albeit by just half a game. The rest of the team has done a great job stepping up in its leader's absence, and it will only continue to play well when he makes his eventual return.
They will not have him tonight, unfortunately, and the Sixers will be looking for a win at home to avenge their loss in Chicago. This game has the makings of a close one, and each team will use its youth to help bring in a win.
Time: Wednesday, December 12th, 7:30 p.m. EST
TV: CSN Chicago, Comcast Sportsnet
Records: Chicago Bulls (11-9) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (12-9)
Betting Lines: Chicago (+2 1/2), Philadelphia (- 2 1/2)
Injuries: Derrick Rose (knee, out), Richard Hamilton (foot, out), Andrew Bynum (knee, out), Royal Ivey (groin, out), Damien Wilkins (calf, doubtful)
Key Storyline: Can Sixers Avenge Their Earlier Loss to Chicago?
The Sixers lost to Chicago on December 1, and it was likely due to the team being shorthanded. Head coach Doug Collins used only eight players, and the team shot just 25 percent from long range. Jrue Holiday led the way with 23 points, and Thaddeus Young chipped in 22, but there was little support otherwise. Evan Turner had 12 points, but he shot 6-of-17 from the field, and that did little to help Philadelphia.
A lot has changed in the past 11 days. Turner has become a triple-threat point forward, providing plenty of support to Holiday and the rest of his teammates. Against a shorthanded Chicago Bulls squad that lost to the Lob City Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night, this could put them in a prime position for a win.
That isn't to say that the Sixers have this game in the bag. The Bulls rank second in points allowed at 91.4 per game and sixth in rebounding at 44.5 per contest. Granted, Philadelphia scores 92.8 points per game, but their young frontcourt may not be able to match up with the Bulls' viable big men.
This game is thus going to be a hard-fought battle. The score will be close, and a physical game will be played on both ends as each team fights for victory.
Key Matchup: Luol Deng vs. Evan Turner
Evan Turner has stepped up as the Sixers' go-to guy in the past month, and he will likely be one of the men they look to in crunch time tonight. The former Ohio State Buckeye has flourished ever since returning to his natural spot at small forward, and the numbers indicate that he is well on his way to becoming a star.
Turner is averaging just 15 points on the season, but he's also posting 7.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists. Over his last five games, he has averaged 17.6 points, clearly willing to become the alpha dog late in close games.
He will be in for a long night against Chicago, however, as pest extraordinaire Luol Deng will be guarding him. Not only is Deng taller than Turner at 6'9", but he also has more experience. He will use both advantages in his quest to shut down Philadelphia's young forward, and Deng succeeding swings the game in the Bulls' favor.
Likewise, Turner must be equally pesky in his defense of Deng, who is averaging 17.8 points and 7.1 boards per game in Rose's absence. Defense has never been his strongest suit on the NBA level, but he averaged 1.6 steals per game in three years at Ohio State. He is capable of being a fine pest, and simply must maintain focus when guarding Deng.
These two men have stepped up as the go-to guys in the absence of their teams' stars, and they will be looking to take control from the start. There can be only one winner, and whoever it is will likely walk off the court with the winning team.
X-Factor: Marco Belinelli
Belinelli has been the starting shooting guard in Richard Hamilton's absence, and he has actually done a pretty good job. He is averaging 17 points in his last five games and is shooting a respectable 39 percent from long range.
He will be at a distinct advantage tonight, as a weak defender in Jason Richardson will likely be guarding him. As he has done in every game Hamilton has recently missed, Belinelli must score points consistently. This means doing more than just waiting in three-point territory and waiting for an open shot.
Belinelli must drive the lane as often as possible and not be afraid to take a mid-range jumper. This could seem odd for him, since he is shooting just 39 percent from the field on the season, but it is a chance he has to take.
The Sixers will be ready for him to take as many three-point shots as possible, and they will play defense accordingly. By throwing that off and sinking some key shots as a result, Belinelli gives his Bulls a much greater chance to win the game.
Chicago may have taken the first game against Philadelphia, but that's not going to be the case tonight. Philadelphia fans are just too loud and rowdy to let their team go down without a fight, and the Sixers will rally behind that against Chicago.
Jrue Holiday will have another fine scoring and passing night, but the real honor will belong to Turner. After struggling against Deng's defense all night long, he will come alive in the last quarter and just sink every shot he sends to the basket, be it a layup, mid-range jumper or a three. He will also register a high assist total and get his fair share of rebounds, further establishing himself as the new star of the team.
On Chicago's end, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah just won't be able to carry the load themselves. Belinelli will have a good number of points, but his over-reliance on the three-pointer will come back to bite him. Despite a seemingly quick start, he will go cold in the second half and pretty much resort to chucking the ball toward the hoop again and again and again.
The Sixers' defense will thus take over, stopping the Bulls on multiple possessions before pulling away in the final few minutes. Chicago will make a great effort at staying alive, but it just won't be enough. This game belongs to Philadelphia, and the fans will not let the Bulls forget it after the final buzzer.
Philadelphia 76ers 96, Chicago Bulls 88