The 76ers (15-54; 5th-Atlantic Division, 14th-Eastern Conference) open up a three-game road trip that - at least on paper - seems as if it will present a substantial challenge. The trek starts with tonight's match-up against the Chicago Bulls (38-31; 2nd-Central Division, 4th-Eastern Conference), and continues on to stops at the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets. Not only are all three of these opponents headed to the post-season, they each rank among the top four teams in their respective conferences.
Last night, the Sixers missed out on another opportunity to snap their extensive losing streak. Trailing the New York Knicks 91-74 with just over five minutes to play in the fourth quarter, the Sixers managed to pull within a possession, 92-90. After making a defensive stop, they got the ball back with 14 seconds left on the clock, but spoiled any chance of tying the game or taking the lead by committing a turnover. The Sixers wound up losing, 93-92, the team's fourth sub-10 point loss in its last five games.
Chicago was also in action last night, falling to their Central Division rival Indiana Pacers, 91-79. The Bulls led after a quarter, but gave up a decisive 19-0 run in the third frame. Indiana was in control for the rest of the night, as Chicago managed to shoot only 36 percent from the field.
The Sixers will look to halt a four-game skid at the United Center. The Bulls are ahead, 2-1, in the teams' four-game season series.
Against one of the stingiest defensive groups in the NBA, the 76ers will have to figure out how to best try and overcome the absence of Tony Wroten. The spunky guard has had a helpful, energizing effect on the Sixers throughout the season, but he'll miss at the very least tonight's portion of the trip with a right ankle sprain. He sustained the injury midway through the fourth quarter of last night's setback, and did not fly to Chicago with the team.
Wroten has been one of the Sixers' more promising discoveries this season, averaging 13.4 points after scoring just 2.6 points per game last year as a rookie with the Memphis Grizzlies. He's usually used as the sixth man in Brett Brown's rotation, but made his 16th start of the season yesterday, taking Hollis Thompson's spot in the line-up.
It will now likely be the shared responsibility of Thompson and shooting guard James Anderson to make up for the loss of Wroten's offense. Thompson is two games removed from a 17-point, 6-rebound showing at Indiana, which was one of his best nights as a pro. Anderson was forced to sit out two games earlier this week with a quad injury. Prior to getting hurt, he had scored in double figures in four straight games.
Chicago has dropped two of its last three games, after having won three of four. The Bulls' lone victory this week came against the 76ers on Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center.
A major factor in that game was the production Chicago got from its second-stringers. Reserve point guard D.J. Augustin had an especially successful performance, putting a team-high 20 points behind four three pointers.
Augustin, along with back-up forward Taj Gibson, has been vital to keeping the Bulls' post-season hopes alive. When Derrick Rose went down with another knee injury just 10 games into his season, Chicago needed to add depth at point guard, so the Bulls signed Augustin following his release from the Toronto Raptors. Augustin was given scant playing time with the Raptors, scoring only nine total points in 10 appearances. He has since exploded with the Bulls, averaging 14.3 points over 49 outings.
Chicago is Augustin's third stop in the last two years. He spent the 2012-2013 season with the Indiana Pacers after signing there as a free agent. The sixth year pro from the University of Texas was originally drafted ninth overall by the Charlotte Bobcats in the 2008 NBA Draft. Augustin had his most prolific season in 2010-2011, when he scored 14.4 points per game.