What to Watch For: Bulls-Sixers


The rollercoaster beginning of the 2015-16 season continues for the Chicago Bulls on Monday night in Philadelphia. Here’s some things to keep your eyes on heading into Monday’s tip-off.

After opening the season with two wins in two nights against Cleveland and Brooklyn, the Bulls have alternated wins and losses over the next five games. The Bulls will enter Monday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers with a few questions and one intriguing headline in particular.

The main question of the evening will be what Bulls team shows up in Philadelphia against a winless Sixers bunch. In the first seven games, the Bulls have beaten the likes of Cleveland and Oklahoma City, but have been blown out by Charlotte and failed to score in overtime against Minnesota this past Saturday night.

When the Bulls are active and playing with energy, they appear to look like a team that’s dangerous when they begin to click. When they don’t, they’ve been pretty awful to watch during stretches this season. (Go back and watch the final 10+ minutes of the Minnesota game from Saturday. It wasn’t pretty.)

There’s some intrigue heading into Monday’s game, so let’s take a look at a few things that could be focal points in Philadelphia.

Fred Hoiberg said no changes to the starting lineup, but…

This is interesting for a couple of different reasons:
1) Nikola Mirotic has been bad since his hot start to the season. According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, Mirotic has missed 12 of his last 13 three-point attempts and has shot 8-for-26 in the last four games (Bulls went 2-2 in that stretch).
2) The Pau GasolJoakim Noah experiment was a failure during Tom Thibodeau’s last season in Chicago. The floor was consistently clogged with the lack of Noah’s offense, while Gasol — despite the positive number in blocks — is a liability on the defensive end.

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The Bulls need a spark to jump their positive play from the first two games of the season. Fred Hoiberg is experimenting with his personnel in the early going, which is a great sign. The key is to start putting the right pieces together.

Will the Bulls snap out of their offensive funk?

In the second half of Saturday’s loss to Minnesota, the Bulls scored 36 points in the two quarters and the five-minute overtime session. The Bulls scored 32 points in the second quarter alone last Thursday night against Oklahoma City.

There were plenty of missed opportunities on offense Saturday. One of the big things on Monday could be the start. The Bulls have been scoring well out of the gate in most cases this season, but they’ve also been giving up a ton right off the bat. Against the Sixers, the Bulls have to put their foot down on both ends and start fast. When you look at the schedule, this should be a game you see and expect to win.

The backcourt play

On Saturday, Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler combined to shoot 7-for-28 from the field, including 1-of-11 from long range. This is supposed to be one of the better backcourts in the entire league. Those nights can’t happen on a frequent basis.

Philadelphia is starting T.J. McConnell and Nik Stauskas in their backcourt. Regardless of who it’s against, the Rose-Butler duo need a bounce-back showing against a young and inexperienced backcourt tandem. Butler’s been vocal about the Bulls providing a better effort on a night-to-night basis. This game would be smart to use as an example of that.

The Bulls vs. Jahlil Okafor, Round 1

Jahlil Okafor will go down as one of the best basketball in the history of Chicago high school basketball. Okafor was a McDonald’s All-American at Whitney Young High School and won countless awards as one of the nation’s premier talents during his four years in the Chicago Public League.

This will be the first time he’ll play against his hometown Bulls. Okafor could be a reason why Joakim Noah found himself working more with the starting lineup for the Bulls today in the morning shootaround. He’s a big low post presence with great footwork and tremendous size. Throw in the always-active Nerlens Noel and the Bulls could have some big problems on Monday night (no pun intended).

Next: Bulls-Timberwolves Film Room: A Game of Missed Opportunities

Other notes:

  • Kirk Hinrich will sit out once again on Monday night with a toe issue. Hinrich has only played five minutes all season long and that came on Oct. 28 in the win against Brooklyn.
  • Robert Covington (sprained knee) will sit out for Philadelphia for Monday’s game against the Bulls.
  • In the qualified areas, the Bulls and Sixers will tip off at 6:00 PM CT on Comcast SportsNet Chicago. A replay of the game will be shown on CSN Chicago at 12:30 AM CT.

UPDATE: Nerlens Noel will not play for Philadelphia on Monday