The Chicago Bulls have won three in a row and five of six to strengthen their bid for a spot in the play-in tournament.
After holding off the host 76ers 109-105 in double overtime on Monday, the Bulls will aim to add to their momentum Wednesday as they try to sweep Philadelphia in a home-and-home series.
“I don’t want to say we’ve figured anything out because anytime you feel like you’ve figured something out, you lose an opportunity to grow,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “But the one thing we have done as of late, which is one thing we’ve struggled with — whatever word you want to use, let go of the rope, frustration, disappointment — we’ve kept grinding and playing.”
Chicago (34-37) has see-sawed throughout the season, but the Bulls’ latest surge has put them in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, two games ahead of the Washington Wizards entering play Tuesday.
Zach LaVine paced the Bulls with 26 points Monday, while DeMar DeRozan (25 points) and Nikola Vucevic (21 points, 12 rebounds) followed to round out a balanced attack.
Chicago kept Philadelphia (48-23) from clinching a playoff spot while ending the team’s eight-game winning streak. The 76ers enjoyed another big night from NBA MVP candidate Joel Embiid, who had 37 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks and has eclipsed the 30-point mark in 10 straight games.
However, a 10-for-36 effort from 3-point range was costly, in Sixers coach Doc Rivers’ view.
“I’ll take our defense the way we played all night,” Rivers said. “I just can’t live with the way we played offense. So, we have to fix that. And that’s every night, you just have to be good on both ends.”
Tyrese Maxey (22 points), De’Anthony Melton (19) and Tobias Harris (14) also scored in double figures for the 76ers. Melton went 5-for-12 from long range.
Philadelphia struggled with consistency, though, while committing 21 turnovers.
“You can’t be perfect,” Embiid said. “You know, you win some, you lose some. I gotta try to keep finding ways to get better.”
Monday marked the first time Embiid has lost to the Bulls in 13 career appearances against them. He missed a 126-112 home loss to Chicago on Jan. 6.
A victory Wednesday would allow the Bulls to claim the season series from the 76ers. Chicago hasn’t won the season series against Philadelphia since 2016-17.
LaVine is averaging 28.6 points per game in his past five games against Philadelphia, while Vucevic is averaging 16.3 rebounds against the 76ers this season.
“We’ve just got to be desperate,” DeRozan said. “We’re fighting for our life every single game.”
Donovan said the team’s energy and communication during huddles has improved and calls that development a driving force in the Bulls’ resilience of late.
Chicago welcomed Javonte Green back to the lineup Monday. The small forward played nine minutes in his first action since Dec. 31, having recovered from knee surgery.
James Harden struggled, scoring five points on 2-for-14 shooting for Philadelphia. Rivers said Harden was troubled by an injured foot.