The Chicago Bulls hardly resemble a team vying for a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference with three of their top five scorers out.
It could be a struggle for them to continue to hold their ground in the standings with the likes of Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler sidelined, so they’ll try to capitalize on Wednesday night’s matchup with the lowly Philadelphia 76ers.
Chicago (39-26) trails Cleveland in the Central Division and is struggling to make up ground with Butler (20.2 points per game), Rose (18.4) and Taj Gibson (10.6) all out. Butler, who has missed five straight games, is expected to sit out two to five more weeks, while Gibson is day to day with an ankle injury after missing six games.
Rose met with the media prior to a 101-91 loss to Memphis on Monday for the first time since undergoing surgery on a torn meniscus Feb. 27 and said he plans to return this season, though there’s no timetable.
Without them, Chicago has dropped three straight by at least 10 points for the first time since March 2010. The Bulls, who are 2 1/2 games ahead of Washington for fourth place in the East, have been held to 91 points or fewer twice in that span and committed 39 turnovers over the last two.
"I thought the fight was strong. We’re short-handed. Fourth game in five nights, bouncing all over the place," coach Tom Thibodeau said of Monday’s loss. "We came up short but I thought they played with great effort."
Chicago is shooting 41.3 percent over the last six games with Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol the only players averaging more than 13.8 points in that span at 20.8 and 16.5. Mirotic isn’t 100 percent either, as he’s listed as probable with a sprained right thumb.
The injuries have come at a particularly inopportune time with the last six games coming against teams currently in playoff position, including matchups with San Antonio, which had won four in a row prior to playing the Bulls on Sunday, and Indiana, which entered Friday’s meeting having won nine of 11.
"We’re working hard, giving ourselves a chance in these three tough games we’ve had," Gasol told the team’s official website. "We keep coming back, keep working and give ourselves a chance. But you make a couple of mistakes, have a couple of rough minutes and all of a sudden you are back down and the teams we are playing are pretty good."
A meeting with the 76ers, who have lost nine of 10 in the series and nine of 11 overall, figures to provide a temporary break – though they knocked off East-leading Atlanta 92-84 on Saturday.
Hollis Thompson and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute each scored 19 to help Philadelphia take advantage of a Hawks team resting three starters.
"I get to a stage where I don’t even care," coach Brett Brown said. "Teams have come in and sat this guy or that guy. We’re at a stage that we’re just hungry to compete. Maybe there’s an additional motivation, but it’s not the first time we’ve experienced it. And the bottom line for us is we saw the best team in the East."
The Bulls have dropped six of eight on the road after a 17-6 start away from home that was the third best in the NBA.
Mike Dunleavy scored a season-high 27 in a 118-115 win at Philadelphia on Nov. 7.