Preview: 76ers at Bulls

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[March 24, 2017]  The Chicago Bulls can't afford to lose to teams below them in the standings as they try to close the gap between themselves and the eighth-place Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference. The Philadelphia 76ers, who are out of the race and visit the Bulls on Friday, won't make it easy.

The Bulls helped themselves despite being without suspended center Robin Lopez by beating a team above them in the standings with a 117-95 drubbing of the Pistons on Wednesday, which moved them into a tie for ninth with Detroit, 1 1/2 games behind the Heat entering play on Thursday. "As much as we hate to say it, if guys go down or are suspended shout-out to 'RoLo' it's the next man up," All-Star Jimmy Butler told reporters. "We were whipping that ball around, but we got some stops. ... When you're making shots, the offense always looks good." The 76ers are trying to learn how to win with a young roster and were enjoying a 3-2 stretch - with both losses by three or fewer points - before getting knocked around in a 122-97 loss at Oklahoma City on Wednesday. Philadelphia, which beat Boston on Sunday, will get more chances to impact the East playoff race with two games each against the Bulls and the No. 7 Indiana Pacers as well as games against Atlanta, Cleveland, Toronto and Milwaukee down the stretch.

TV: 8 p.m. ET, CSN Philadelphia, WGN (Chicago)

ABOUT THE 76ERS (26-45): Philadelphia struggled to match the physicality of the Thunder on Wednesday and were outrebounded 67-33 while surrendering 76 points in the paint. "They were just stronger than us," power forward Dario Saric told reporters. "They are just more pounds, more kilos, like we say in Europe. They are really tough. They have a lot of experience. They know how to use the movement around the rim, how to get position around the rim. They showed us how to play basketball." Saric managed 12 points in the loss to run his streak of scoring in double figures to 21 straight games.

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ABOUT THE BULLS (34-38): Chicago got a surprising performance in Wednesday's triumph from power forward Nikola Mirotic, who scored a season-high 28 points on 12-of-15 shooting. "It was a very important game, everybody knew that," Mirotic told reporters. "We talked pregame about how it would be difficult without Robin Lopez and that the big guys needed to step up, especially guarding (Pistons center Andre) Drummond. We did a good job defensively, and offensively we had 36 assists. It was big-time shooting and rebounding the ball." Mirotic has been in and out of the rotation this season and shot a combined 33.3 percent from the floor in the four games prior to Wednesday's breakout.

BUZZER BEATERS

1. Bulls C Joffrey Lauvergne started in place of Lopez on Wednesday and scored 17 points - matching his total from the first 11 games of March.

2. 76ers SG Nik Stauskas recorded back-to-back 20-point efforts for the first time in his career on Monday and Wednesday.

3. Chicago is enjoying a 12-game winning streak in the series.

PREDICTION: Bulls 105, 76ers 103

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