When the Eastern Conference leading Chicago Bulls take on the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night, they’ll likely still be riding the high that came from an epic 19-point comeback over the Boston Celtics on Monday.
At one point when the game was all but over late in the third quarter, with under a minute to go before the fourth, the Bulls began a surge.
Chicago’s bench was key for them in the comeback victory, but so was one big piece of the box score: rebounding.
Up to that point, the Bulls had really struggled rebounding the ball. Losing Patrick Williams for (most likely) the season hurt them badly in that area, too. But, against the Celtics, Chicago found a way to win the battle on the glass, out-rebounding Boston 50-38.
The Chicago Bulls will have to keep the momentum going on the glass versus Joel Embiid and the Sixers.
In addition to a Bulls comeback, Monday night also saw Joel Embiid sit out due to a rest day, which means he will likely suit up against the Bulls tonight. Philadelphia was also without Tobias Harris (safety protocols) Monday, and if the Sixers have both of them back, it will present quite a challenge for Chicago.
Harris and Embiid are combining to average 17.7 rebounds per game as a pair. Veteran big man Andre Drummond is also pouring in 10.0 per game, himself, which leads the team.
Now, while that may look scary, here’s the crazy thing: Philadelphia is dead last in the NBA in rebounds per game as a team, because outside of those three, they have a hard time crashing the glass.
This is going to be similar to an NFL defense choosing to take out the opponent’s best player in order to win the game. If the Bulls can hold down Embiid on the glass, they’ll have a good chance at winning the rebounding battle. Embiid is a much stronger player than anybody the Bulls can put up against him, so he’s going to test them.
For the Bulls, they only have one player averaging more than six rebounds per game, and that’s Nikola Vucevic with 10.9. A couple of guys are averaging around five, but Vucevic is the only one who has consistently come up with a large number of boards.
Lately, we have seen Billy Donovan go with small ball fours in order to help relieve the loss of Patrick Williams. It’s been Javonte Green and Derrick Jones Jr. who have played that position, and they have played it well. Both Green and Jones have given the Bulls some great minutes, with Green starting at the four.
Taking on a big, powerful and versatile Embiid is going to require a team effort. It’s going to be that same type of energy we’ve seen with the Bulls trying to close out on shooters, only in the paint while trying to deny Embiid.
But, Harris is also a problem. Not only on offense, but on the glass. The Sixers are a physically-imposing team. The Bulls are a quick, scrappy team, on the other hand. They are going to need to be efficient in their shooting and get out on the break quickly when they do get those rebounds.
So far, so good, in attempting to make up for the loss of Williams. But, Vucevic and his makeshift forwards have a lot of work to do Wednesday night.