The Sixers will go for their high-water mark on the early season tonight against a depleted, well-rested Chicago team, in Chicago.
Last season, the Bulls without Derrick Rose were a very, very good basketball team. This year, I don't think that's the case. Their starting lineup is probably about even with last year's squad, but the Bulls strength was really in their depth. Their bench went from being a defensive juggernaut to Taj Gibson and a bunch of gunners who don't defend. Tom Thibodeau continues to work wonders with his defensive scheme, and the Bulls are far from a pushover, but they've clearly fallen from the elite.
Joakim Noah is the Bulls huge advantage in the starting lineup. It would be nice if Lavoy showed up early and forced Noah away from the hoop. You can live with jumpers, you can't live with lazy rotations leaving guys open under the hoop and you can't live with offensive boards and putbacks. The Bulls don't have anyone who should be able to penetrate off the dribble. Jrue and Turner need to pressure the ball and leave the bigs to worry only about containing Noah and Gibson, especially keeping them off the boards.
On the offensive end, expect Thibs to put a ton of pressure on Jrue. Expect doubles, and not just doubles on the pick-and-roll, everyone does that. Expect the Bulls to send doubles right when he gets the ball across mid-court, from nowhere. He's going to get the ball out of Jrue's hands as much as possible, Jrue needs to read where the doubles are coming from, use his dribble to not only escape, but to attack. If he can beat the double before it gets there, he's got a numbers advantage, press that advantage to find the open cutter to the hoop, or the open shooter behind the arc. If you can't escape the double, don't try to, move the ball quickly to the next guy, keep the ball moving, keep the defense reacting, rather than attacking.
Turner is going to be key tonight, because Collins is probably going to do everything he can to minimize the doubles on Jrue. That means Turner initiating offense more than he usually does. Turner's going to have a tough defender to deal with in Luol Deng. He needs to keep his head up, avoid forcing jumpers over the bigger defender and run the offense to get looks for others, not just himself.
The Bulls haven't played since Wednesday. Jrue, Turner and Thad all played 35+ minutes last night. This is one of those gut-check games. Nothing is easy against the Bulls, they make you work for every inch on the offensive end. It's going to take 48 minutes of focus and energy to complete this back-to-back. Take advantage of Chicago's bench. Attack the weak defenders they've got in their rotation, and don't give them free points on the offensive boards. Those are your keys.
The tip is at 8pm. This is your game thread. I'll be here throughout. Join me if you'd like to see a repeat of round one, game two of the playoffs last season.