Bulls carry 5-game win streak into 76ers’ visit
CHICAGO — By now, the prognostications are part of Nikola Mirotic’s pregame routine.
Since the Chicago Bulls forward made his season debut on Dec. 8, Mirotic has sat at his locker stall pregame and predicted a Bulls victory. Each time, the Bulls have held up their end of the bargain, winning five straight, a string Chicago hopes to extend when the Philadelphia 76ers visit the United Center on Monday night.
The Bulls (8-20) own the NBA’s longest active winning streak, which has been fueled by Mirotic, who averaged 25 points in the past three games.
Mirotic scored 22 points in the Bulls’ 115-109 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday when he started for the third consecutive game in place of rookie Lauri Markkanen, who is out due to back spasms.
Markkanen will be a game-day decision for the Monday game. Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg said Markkanen will return to his starting spot when he is ready despite how well Mirotic has played since returning from missing 23 games with facial fractures and a concussion sustained in a fight at practice with teammate Bobby Portis in October.
After the Friday victory, Mirotic was asked for a forecast for the Monday game against the 76ers.
“Yeah, 6-0,” Mirotic said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “After Monday, 6-0.”
Hoiberg, whose patience was tested throughout a 10-game losing streak that preceded the Bulls’ current success, is more concerned with the long term rather than how long the Bulls can keep up their stretch of consecutive victories.
“The biggest thing is (that) we keep getting better,” Hoiberg said after the victory over the Bucks, according to the Tribune. “That’s all we want to accomplish now.”
Philadelphia (14-14) enters play Monday having lost five of its past six games. The 76ers snapped a four-game losing streak Thursday with an overtime victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves but then lost in triple overtime to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday.
The 76ers have progressed more quickly than expected, thanks largely to the emergence of Joel Embiid, who sustained a serious knee injury last February. Embiid wasn’t expected to start logging serious minutes until January, but played a career-high 49 minutes Friday in the marathon loss to the Thunder. He scored 34 points to go along with eight rebounds and six assists in Philadelphia’s 119-117 defeat.
However, the 76ers announced Sunday that Embiid would not travel to Chicago due to back stiffness and to allow him to rest following the Friday loss. According to NBC Sports Philadelphia, coach Brett Brown said he was unsure whether Embiid would play Tuesday when the Sixers host the Sacramento Kings.
The Sixers will also be without Trevor Booker, who sprained his left ankle Friday. X-rays came back negative, but Booker will miss the next two games and be re-evaluated in five to seven days.
Philadelphia has showed signs of being a playoff contender despite showing some inconsistencies.
“To be honest, I thought (finding success) was going to take a little longer,” Brown said recently. “I feel good about where we’re headed.”
Philadelphia’s 14 victories this season include wins over both the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The 76ers are now playing with the kind of confidence that a team accustomed to winning exudes on a regular basis.
Now, facing a back-to-back following two days off, the Embiid-less 76ers will attempt to bounce back from another close loss while trying to slow down the suddenly surging Bulls.
Following the loss to the Thunder, Embiid said, “We shouldn’t have any excuse for losing that game.”