By Connor Thomas
After an 8 day hiatus, the Sixers are officially back in action tonight in Chicago as the team starts the second half of the season against the Bulls. Or rather I should say most of the team starts the second half. Of course, the biggest story of the NBA All-Star break was the contact tracing that ruled Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid out of the All-Star game due to a positive COVID test by the two’s personal barber. So far, neither of the Sixers’ two stars have actually returned a positive test, but due to the NBA’s cautious COVID protocol, Embiid will be ineligible for one more day, and Simmons for two. That means that the Sixers will be hugely shorthanded tonight in Chicago as they take on Zach Lavine and company. Now, this isn’t the ’95 Bulls; the team currently sits 2 games under .500, good for the 9th seed in the East. But the Sixers have struggled this year in games where they are missing one of their starting 5, even falling to some teams that are bottom of the barrel in those contests. The Bulls may not be a playoff team right now, but All-Star Lavine has had a great season so far, averaging nearly 30 ppg. 2nd year point guard Coby White has also taken a step forward this season, becoming one of the best clutch scorers in the Association. Power Forward Lauri Markkanen has also been good for Chicago this year, but he is currently nursing a shoulder injury that, even though he is listed as probable for tonight’s contest, might hamper him from hurting the Sixers as much as he usually would.
Philly, while shorthanded, should still be able to put out a capable lineup with the rest of the team fully healthy. A lineup that could possibly feature Shake Milton running the point and Dwight Howard starting at the 5, rounding out the other 3 usual starters, is not a terrible option. That being said, a combination of a road game, without your best two players, after a long break where some rust may have begun to set in, is not exactly the formula that Doc Rivers was looking for coming out of the mid-season break. The fact of the matter is, though, the team is a victim of a strict protocol that… oh wait, has been bent numerous times this year by the postponement of games. Not to mention that this whole situation was created as a result of an All-Star game that probably should’ve never happened and a pair of shape ups that never should have been needed. That is another issue altogether. The bottom line is that the Sixers will need to survive the next 2 games shorthanded, starting with Chicago later on tonight in the windy city.
The offensive matchup of the game for the Sixers will be Tobias Harris against rookie power forward Patrick Williams. Williams is not an automatic pushover, he has played some fine defense so far in his rookie campaign. But Tobias Harris was a fringe All-Star this year in a stacked Eastern Conference, and he will get a chance to begin his revenge tour after not being selected by torching a rook when his team really needs an uptick in scoring.
The defensive matchup of the game for the Sixers will be Matisse Thybulle on Zach Lavine. Lavine is far and away the best player on the Bulls, with the ability to cook just about any defender in the league. In the first half matchup between these teams, Matisse Thybulle drew the short straw, as he was tasked with primarily locking up Lavine in that contest. In the 8+ minutes of that game that Thybulle was the primary defender on Lavine, he held him to an uncharacteristic 2 for 12 from the field, so if he can replicate that effort again it will be a huge help to the Sixers chances.
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