Trying to Avoid the Sweep, Transition Talent, the Good and the Bad, and Other Bulls Bullets

Zach LaVine of the Chicago Bulls with Joel Embiid.
Zach LaVine of the Chicago Bulls with Joel Embiid.

One day it’s storming and in the 50s.

The next day it’s sunny and in the 60s.

And right after that, it’s snowy and in the 30s.

I feel like there is some kind of comparison here for the Chicago Bulls’ last month of the season, but I’ll choose not to engage.

•   Saying I’m uneasy about tonight’s matchup in Philadelphia might be an understatement. The 76ers have done nothing but toy with the Bulls this season, earning a 3-0 record and beating them by a wider margin each game. Now, thanks to a blockbuster deadline move, the team is even better than the one the Bulls piled up loses to early this season. Philly is 4-0 in the games James Harden has played since coming over from Brooklyn. They have defeated opponents by an average of 17 points in those four contests, with Harden averaging roughly a 26pts/12reb/8ast split. The 10x All-Star has also shot 59.2 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from downtown since teaming up with Embiid, instantly giving the 76ers one of the most dynamically efficient offensive duos in the league.

•   Embiid has looked nothing short of the MVP in his battles (if you can even call them that) with the Bulls thus far. He’s averaged 29.3 points and 11.7 rebounds in his three victories, shooting 50+ percent from both the field and behind the arc. The last time the Bulls and 76ers met on February 6th, Embiid dropped 40 points on a 14-23 performance in just 32 minutes of action. Considering how tough it’s been for Chicago to protect the rim (allow the 7th-most point in the paint per game), it’s going to take arguably their best games in recent weeks on both ends of the floor to snap their losing streak.

•   Let me be clear, there is no way to speed up James Harden (or Joel Embiid, for that matter), but there is a way to blow right past him in transition. That’s what I will be looking for the Bulls to do tonight: Play fast, and play with a sense of urgency. Philly gives up the 3rd-most fast-break points per game, something that should be saliva-inducing for this athletic and transition-loving Bulls team. Chicago currently averages the 10th-most fast-break points per game, and they continue to be one of the most efficient transition teams in the league with a 6th-ranked 114.4 points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass. So why not try to make this a sprint? Again, you may not be able to put Embiid or Harden on their toes, but you may get some easy buckets.

•   One big problem: To play fast and take advantage of this team’s transition talent … they need to rebound. The Bulls have lost the rebounding battle in five-straight games, and they have also given up a back-breaking 12.2 offensive rebounds a night over that stretch. Will the trend continue tonight? The physical Embiid will surely make life hard on the Bulls, but you actually may be surprised to learn that Philly holds the 3rd-worst REB% in the NBA. They’re actually also the only team who holds a worse OREB% than the Bulls. Chicago tied Philly in the rebounding department in February, and they won the battle in both games back in November. Something to think about.

•   Whenever the camera pans over to Alex Caruso, I’m surprised I don’t see steam flowing from his scalp. Do you know how brutal it must be to watch this team play defense every night? Er, well, I guess you do. Let me rephrase. Do you know how brutal it must be to watch this team play defense every night when you’re one of the best on-ball pests in the league? I’m happy the team has his IQ on the sideline still, but he can’t inject his talent into anyone else. I’m sure he knows how much of a difference he would make for the Bulls, especially tonight against Harden, and I’m sure that’s painfully annoying.

•   The more I think about these final 20-some games for the Bulls, the more indifferent I feel. On a positive note, I think the team is earning some great experience heading into their first postseason together. As such a new group, this 2nd-toughest schedule post-All-Star-break is a good reminder of how there will be no nights off come playoff time. The Bulls will also see a number of the teams they could see in the first few rounds, giving them plenty of recent film and first-hand knowledge to use if a playoff series came to be. Overall, I’d rather have this stinkfest happen sooner than later, as the regular season is still the most acceptable time to lose and learn.

•   Looking at the negative side of things: A fight for seeding is still very much alive. Thanks to a remarkably competitive Eastern Conference, the Bulls don’t have a big enough lead to avoid plummeting down the standings. We’ve already seen them drop to 4th, and the Boston Celtics are now right on their heel just 1.0 game behind. I also can’t help but think about how this schedule mixed with the injury trouble is forcing the Bulls’ best talent to eat up significant late-season minutes. There isn’t going to be much rest for Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic, and tired legs are the last thing you want when playoff intensity comes around.

•   Seriously … what are the chances?

•   I SPOT A ZO!

•   MLB is being a huge buzzkill, so shoutout Brett for still giving us some fun things to think about:

written by

Elias Schuster is the Lead Chicago Bulls writer at Bleacher Nation. He started with BN full-time in 2019 immediately after graduating from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign with a degree in Journalism (yes, he started with the Jim Boylen Era). Since joining, Elias has been the driving force behind Bulls and NBA content for both the site and social accounts. You can follow him on Twitter/X @Schuster_Elias.

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