With an 18-5 start to the season, the Bulls have proven that they were not a one-year wonder in 2010-11. The offense has performed better than expected, led by reigning MVP Derrick Rose. The defense is where this team really shines; they lead the league in rebounds per game and are second in points allowed per game.
The 76ers have been a pleasant surprise this year. There was talk last season that they might have to blow the whole thing up to start over. Instead, they kept all their key pieces, made some small tweaks in the offseason and have taken off. With seven players averaging at least 10 points per game, they are one of the most balanced teams in the NBA.
Where: Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA
When: Wednesday, Feb. 1 at 7:00 p.m. ET
Watch: Comcast Sportsnet Chicago (Bulls); Comcast Sportsnet (Philadelphia)
Live Stream: NBA League Pass
Betting Line: Chicago (-1.5)
According to Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago, both Richard Hamilton and Luol Deng will be out for tonight's game. Hamilton has been dealing with a groin injury that has limited him to just 11 games this season. Deng's wrist is healing, but he is not quite where he needs to be yet.
Fifth-year center Spencer Hawes will miss his ninth straight game with an Achilles injury, according to Dei Lynam of Comcast Sportsnet Philadelphia
What's at Stake?
Despite being just a regular-season game, this is a big one to determine the balance of power in the Eastern Conference. These two teams, along with the Miami Heat, are the best and most talented in the NBA.
This will be the first game that the Bulls and 76ers have played against each other this year. The winner will feel even more confident about what is in store for the rest of the season. The loser will have to go back to the drawing board to get better when they meet again.
What They Are Saying
Rose has had a lot of great moments in a short time during his NBA career, but he took the team's loss to Miami on Sunday particularly hard.
He went out the next night against Washington with something to prove, and after he lit up the Wizards for 35 points and eight assists, he talked about what he wants his legacy in Chicago to be.
From the Daily Herald:
“That's something I live for,” he said. “I think of my legacy. I want people to think of me as being a clutch player; someone that always comes through the majority of the time when they're on the court. It hurt a little bit, but I know it will help me in the long run.
“I like seeing my city happy, especially if I'm one of the reasons why. I know what we went through after Mike (Jordan) left and all the years that people really didn't watch the Bulls. For them to start watching the Bulls and for the organization to get our fans back, it means a lot to me. Knowing that when you see people, they've got Bulls hats on, Bulls apparel on. It means a lot to me.”
Bulls Player to Watch: PG Derrick Rose
It might be boring to pick the best player, but everything that the Bulls do, either on offense or defense, runs through Rose. He has established himself as the best point guard in the NBA, and his performance rubs off on everyone around him.
He can do it all, no matter what the situation. If you need him to score, he isn't afraid to press the defense. If he feels the heat, he isn't afraid to set up a teammate for a shot. He plays stout defense and isn't afraid to bang with anyone inside.
76ers Player to Watch: PG Lou Williams
It is hard to single out any one player for the 76ers, because they are so balanced on offense and everyone works in unison on defense.
Williams has been fantastic off the bench for this team. He leads the team in scoring with 15.3 points per game, despite averaging just 25 minutes of floor time. He is going to have the unenviable task of locking up with Rose.
He is going to need to shut down Rose on defense without missing a beat on offense.
Key Matchup: 76ers Point Guards vs. Derrick Rose
Instead of just singling out Williams in his battle with Rose, it is going to fall on both him and Jrue Holiday in order to contain the Bulls offense.
They will also have to put their teammates in good positions to get easy scores against the intense, attacking Bulls defense. The battle at the point is going to determine which team walks away from this battle with a victory.
These are the two best defensive teams in the NBA. They rank first and second in points allowed per game, so don't expect a lot of fireworks to fly in Philly. Instead, look for a chess match with the first team to blink losing.
Bulls 85, 76ers 81