Bulls prove a point by finishing 2023 with a win over 76ers

Philadelphia 76ers v Chicago Bulls
Philadelphia 76ers v Chicago Bulls / Quinn Harris/GettyImages

Up against a true championship contender the third-best team in the Eastern Conference, I wouldn't normally say I liked the Chicago Bulls' odds entering last night's game. However, the Bulls had one distinct advantage that made this game against the Philadelphia 76ers can't miss television: they'd be without their franchise cornerstone and reigning MVP Joel Embiid.

Sitting out due to an ankle injury, Embiid would be replaced by Paul Reed in the starting lineup — a significant downgrade to say the least. Meanwhile, the Bulls would be missing their own center Nikola Vucevic, on top of injuries to Zach LaVine, Torrey Craig, and Lonzo Ball. These injuries significantly depleted both rosters and helped foster the feeling that this could be anyone's game.

If we're being honest with ourselves here, the Bulls needed this win more, and I believe that much was evident in how each team performed out there last night. Chicago would defend the United Center valiantly, defeating the 76ers 105-92 and improving their home record to a relatively impressive 11-9 (as opposed to their lackluster 4-10 record on the road).

Despite missing so many pieces of their usual rotation, the Bulls managed to put together a complete game by winning all four quarters and giving Philly no hope of completing a comeback in the clutch. The 76ers are currently ranked as the NBA's third-best offense this season, so holding them to a season-low of 92 points is a feat to be proud of, even if Embiid didn't suit up.

Winners in 10 of their last 15 games, the Bulls have the potential to make a big run in 2024.

DeMar DeRozan was once again the stabilizing presence this team needed, leading the Bulls with 24 points and 5 assists, while also reeling in 6 rebounds and tying Alex Caruso for a game-high +19 plus/minus. Coby White also enjoyed a bounce-back performance after a few poor shooting games, as he still managed to contribute 20 points and 8 rebounds on 6-for-10 shooting from within the arc.

I highlighted Andre Drummond as a player to keep a close eye on ahead of last night's game, as the reserve would be stepping up in the absence of Vucevic and had a big opportunity to show his worth against his former team. Without Embiid in the way to slow him down, Drummond scored 15 points, reeled in a jaw-dropping 23 rebounds, and swatted away 3 shots as Chicago's primary rim protector.

Temporarily losing Vucevic has been far from an ideal outcome, but Drummond has done everything in his power to keep the Bulls' positive momentum rolling. It will be interesting to see if he can keep it up when Embiid returns to the lineup. The Bulls will once again play the 76ers on January 2, before traveling to play the new-look Knicks and a pair of games against the Hornets — a team with notoriously poor play at the center position.

But for now, let's set all that aside as we prepare for tonight's New Year's festivities. This has been a wild rollercoaster of a season thus far, and I can't shake the feeling that this ride isn't stopping any time soon.

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