For the Philadelphia 76ers, the final 18 regular-season games are all about getting healthy for the playoffs.
For the Chicago Bulls, the 17 games left in the season are for players to keep building on what has been surprising second-half run.
The teams square off Wednesday in Chicago on what will be the second half of a back-to-back set for both teams.
Even after a 105-96 loss at Indiana on Tuesday night, the Bulls are averaging 118.5 points over their past 11 games. They are 6-5 in that span, a big improvement on the 12-42 mark that preceded the surge.
The Sixers, meanwhile, limp into Chicago with a big question mark in the middle of their lineup.
Philadelphia center Joel Embiid did not play Tuesday as the 76ers beat the visiting Orlando Magic 114-106. He will miss a seventh consecutive game Wednesday, as coach Brett Brown told reporters Embiid would not travel to Chicago.
Philadelphia had to call up Justin Patton from the G League's Delaware Blue Coats because Embiid's backup, Boban Marjanovic (knee), sat out Tuesday as well. Patton scored one point and grabbed four rebounds in eight minutes against Orlando.
Another Sixers big man, Jonah Bolden (sinus infection), did not play on Tuesday while center Amir Johnson (upper-back tightness) played 20 minutes and scored 14 points after being listed as questionable.
Embiid said he plans to return sometime this week. Brown doesn't want to rush his oft-injured star back too soon, but thinks Embiid might be ready on Friday against Houston.
"He just doesn't feel like he's ready to go," Brown said, according to Philly.com. "He really does feel restricted with some of his movements, there's a little bit of soreness, I think, still."
The Sixers are 4-2 in the games Embiid has missed. Their success has come thanks to Ben Simmons and newly acquired Tobias Harris.
Since being dealt to Philadelphia by the Los Angeles Clippers last month, Harris, a free-agent-to-be, is averaging 21.6 points in 10 games.
"I hope he's a Philadelphia 76er for a long time," Brown said earlier this week.
Harris said, "Yeah, I like it here. It's been a good start that we've been able to have, a good group of guys, and the team has a lot of potential."
Simmons has stepped up his game in Embiid's absence as well and was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week after averaging 16.7 points, 13.3 rebounds, eight assists, two steals and one blocks over three games last week.
Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine have led the Bulls' resurgence. After a 14-point, 13-rebound effort Tuesday, Markkanen is averaging 24 points and 12.9 rebounds over the past 11 games. LaVine scored 27 points against the Pacers, and he is contributing 25.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game over the 11-game run.
Despite the Bulls' season-long struggles, the teams' recent play has lifted the hopes of younger players such as LaVine.
"Hopefully, we can stick together in the good times," LaVine said. "You can see a light in the dark tunnel. You try to prepare yourself for the times you are going to be playing for something, and that's definitely what we want to do (now) as a team."
Since trading for Otto Porter Jr. in February, the Bulls are 6-3 when he plays. With a young nucleus of Markkanen (21), LaVine (who turns 24 on Sunday) and Porter (25), the future looks bright for the Bulls.
"(Keep) the consistency and play with the effort and the type of swagger we are playing with," LaVine said of what the Sixers can expect. "We have to build this chemistry for next year."
--Field Level Media
Embiid sidelined again as 76ers visit Bulls
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