It’s time to look in the mirror after Bulls fall to 76ers for season sweep

Zach LaVine said he still believes that he and DeMar DeRozan are the best duo in basketball. But Joel Embiid and James Harden might have a different opinion. Now the Bulls are left wondering how to start earning respect among the NBA’s true contenders.

SHARE It’s time to look in the mirror after Bulls fall to 76ers for season sweep
The 76ers’ Joel Embiid (21) dunks against the Bulls’ Tristan Thompson (3) during the second half of Monday’s game.

The 76ers’ Joel Embiid (21) dunks against the Bulls’ Tristan Thompson (3) during the second half of Monday’s game.

Matt Slocum/AP

PHILADELPHIA — Center Joel Embiid finished with 43 points, 14 rebounds and three blocked shots for the 76ers on Monday night.

His partner in crime, shooting guard James Harden, scored 16 points and had 14 assists and eight rebounds.

Not bad for the second-best duo on the court. At least, that’s how Bulls guard Zach LaVine saw it, even after a 121-106 loss that gave the 76ers a series sweep this season and extended the Bulls’ skid to five games.

“We’ve got to figure out how to win some of these games,” LaVine said afterward. “I’ll take me and DeMar [DeRozan] against anybody in the entire world. I feel strongly about that, and I still do. But it doesn’t matter if you don’t win games. We have to start going out there and putting some of these W’s up.”

There’s a narrative the Bulls — now 39-26 and in fourth place in the Eastern Conference after going 1-5 out of the All-Star break — just can’t escape: They’re a combined 0-9 against the three teams ahead of them in the East — 0-4 against the 76ers, 0-3 against the Heat and 0-2 against the Bucks. They’re also a combined 0-5 against the Warriors, Grizzlies and conference-leading Suns in the West.

The only victories they have over teams with a winning percentage of .600 or better are one over the Mavericks on Nov. 10 and one over the Jazz on Oct. 30. They’re a combined 2-15 against true contending teams.

Center Tristan Thompson, who won a championship with the Cavaliers in 2016, pointed out that the Hawks beat up that Cavaliers team all season, but the Cavaliers turned the tables and “kicked their [butt]” in the playoffs. His point was that the Bulls aren’t panicking over regular-season results.

Informed that these Bulls don’t have LeBron James, Thompson continued.

“We’ve got a lot of good players,’’ he said. “We’ve got a ‘Big Three’ that’s really [expletive] good. And they’re [expletive] All-Stars. I think it’s on you [reporters] to create that narrative on whatever our record is. We’ve just got to ask, ‘How can we get better?’ each and every day.”

It’ll be hard to do with yet another key player down. Big man Nikola Vucevic missed Monday’s game with a strained right hamstring.

Thompson got the start against Embiid, but, like many bigs who face him, eventually got into foul trouble. More troubling than that is how consistently this group — short-handed or not — continues to let the league’s best teams beat them: Too many fouls, too many untimely turnovers, too many bad shots when it matters.

Actually, a night without Vucevic couldn’t have started any better. The Bulls’ starters came out with urgency, especially on defense, and had the 76ers down eight points and searching for a rhythm through the first eight minutes of the first quarter.

The 76ers found it, courtesy of the Bulls’ bench. Over the final four minutes of the quarter, they turned the deficit into a five-point lead. The Bulls had a few runs but never came close to threatening again.

So what now?

Bulls coach Billy Donovan wants everyone looking in a mirror, starting with himself, to figure out how to fix what’s broken.

LaVine said it’s about finding an identity.

“It’s not the end of the world,” he said. “We have to go out there and compete, and find an identity with whoever is on the floor.”

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