Keys to the Game: Bulls at 76ers (02.19.21)

The Chicago Bulls make their national TV debut this season, visiting the City of Brotherly Love to take on the Philadelphia 76ers. Fans can catch the action on ESPN, or if you can't get to a TV, you can always find Bulls games on radio at WSCR-AM 670. Tip-off is set for 6:30 p.m. (CT).

After a tough start to the season, the Bulls look to be coming into their own, hitting the hardwood tonight riding a wave of momentum after winning two in-a-row. In their last outing, Chicago captured a tight 105-102 victory over Detroit on Wednesday after trailing by as much as 25 points in the second quarter. Zach LaVine once again led the Bulls, posting a game-high 37 points to go along with five rebounds and five assists. LaVine, who is just 25-years old, has clearly emerged as an NBA superstar this season. He's sixth in league scoring at 28.5 points per game, shooting a dazzling 43.7% from behind the 3-point arc, to go along with 5.5 rebounds and 5.2 assists a night.

LaVine paces a Bulls attack that features seven players averaging double digits in scoring, although two of them, Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter Jr, will miss tonight's game due to injury.

LaVine's backcourt mate, Coby White, has been a breakout player in his second season. White leads the team in assists at 5.4 a game, and chips in 15.8 points and 4.7 rebounds.

While Chicago can score with anyone in the league (the Bulls average 114.6 points, the 10th best mark in the NBA), defensively there's still a lot of work to do, as they are allowing opponents 115.4 points a night.

The primary difference maker for Philly is big man Joel Embiid, who comes into tonight's contest fourth in the league in scoring at 29.7 points, while adding 10.7 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.2 blocks.

With All-Star guard Ben Simmons down with a stomach virus, Embiid carried the 76ers to a 118-113 victory over the Houston Rockets in their last outing, snapping a 3-game losing skid. Embiid finished with 31 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in 37 minutes of work.

The 76ers are also getting strong performances from Tobias Harris this season, as he's averaging better than 20 points a game as well as eight boards.

As for the aforementioned Ben Simmons, he's a do-everything player who usually is asked to defend an opponent's top offensive weapon. He's also Philly's best passer and all-around energy guy. So far this season he's averaging 15.2 points per game and leads the team in assists (8.0) and steals (1.7). But the offseason additions of both Seth Curry and Danny Green have really helped to open the floor for the 76ers, allowing Embiid to focus on dominating down low, one-on-one.

As of this writing, Simmons' availability is up in the air due to that nasty stomach virus. If he can't make it onto the court by tip-off, Curry will likely start in his place.

The journeyman guard may have finally found a home in Philadelphia, as Curry is knocking down an eye-popping 47.9% of his threes.

A primary key every game for the Bulls is to run downhill and play fast. Chicago is at its best when they're able to set a speedy pace, as the team's athleticism is then allowed to run down the floor and post easy buckets in transition. There aren't a lot of teams in the NBA capable of matching the Bulls' speed, in particular, LaVine and White when they're able to pick up a full head of steam with the ball in their hands.

For Chicago's offense to kick into gear the ball must freely jump from player-to-player and from side-to-side. Quick and decisive passing forces defenses to scramble and breakdown. It also frees up driving lanes to the rim, as well as generate open looks at the hoop from outside.

No team can ever afford to allow one player to take on the defense all by himself. There has to be steady player and ball movement, in and out of the paint to generate an effective offensive tempo.

Despite having dropped three of its last four games, Philly still owns the best record in the East at 19-10. Thus, Chicago must come in focused from the start and bring plenty of energy and grit for a long, tough fight.

Without question, the Bulls will need to pay close attention to the 3-point arc, especially whenever Curry has the ball in his hands and is hovering all along the bend. He can't be left alone, otherwise he's going to light up the scoreboard all night long. Harris is another lethal option from deep, as the veteran forward is knocking down 42.6% of his three-ball attempts. Embiid (39.7%) and Green (37.5%) can also step outside.

One other 76er to watch out for this evening is 6'7" reserve guard, Furkan Korkmaz. The fourth-year Turkish import flat out destroyed Chicago last year. In two games, Korkmaz hit 20-of-28 (71.4%) from the field, including 12-of-20 (60.0%) from behind the arc, averaging 27.5 points against the Bulls. So far, he's played in 18 of Philly's 29 games, and his highest scoring night was 17 against the Indiana Pacers on January 31st.

Hopefully seeing a Bulls uniform won't set Korkmaz off like last season. If it does, we got trouble!

The Bulls must also collectively hit the boards hard at both ends of the floor. Embiid is a monster, so it's going to take a team effort to not allow him to roam free under the hoop and dominate the paint.

If the Bulls will fight and scrap in every way, and continue to grow as a team, they'll give themselves a shot at coming away with another victory this evening. It certainly won't be easy, but it's doable.