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76ers-Bulls Preview

The Associated Press

After struggling offensively to start the season, the Philadelphia 76ers appear to have found their groove.

The 76ers, however, might find the going a little tougher on Saturday night when they visit defensive-minded Chicago in the teams' first meeting since Philadelphia upset the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs.

The 76ers (10-6) continued to get a boost from their improving offense on Friday night when they eclipsed 100 points for the fifth time in six games in a 104-98 victory at Charlotte.

Philadelphia, which won its third straight, has averaged 101.0 points while shooting 46.4 percent -- including 38.7 percent shooting from 3-point range -- over its last six games.

The current stretch is quite a contrast from the team's tough times in the first four games of the season, when it averaged 83.3 points with a 38.3 shooting percentage.

"I was never really worried,'' guard Jason Richardson said. "I knew we had guys that could score and I just thought we were going through a (cold) streak.''

Richardson, who missed almost five full games early in November with an ankle sprain, hit four 3-pointers and scored 14 of his season-high 22 points in the fourth quarter Friday.

Evan Turner had another big game, scoring 25 points on 10 of 15 shooting for his career-best eighth straight game in double figures. Turner has averaged 22.3 points on 56.1 percent shooting over his last four games.

He averaged 11.7 points against the Bulls in the playoffs after famously saying he'd rather face Chicago than Miami in the opening round.

Jrue Holiday had 13 points and a career-high 15 assists Friday for Philadelphia, which shot a season-best 51.2 percent from the field.

Holiday averaged 18.2 points in the six-game playoff series against Chicago.

While the 76ers look for their seventh win in nine games, they'll have to find a way to keep things rolling against one of the toughest defensive teams in the league.

The Bulls (7-7) rank fourth in the NBA in scoring defense at 92.3 points per game and are also among the top 10 in defensive field-goal percentage at 43.4.

Chicago will try for its third win in four games after holding Dallas to season lows in points and field-goal percentage (34.6) in a 101-78 victory Wednesday.

Coach Tom Thibodeau, though, was quick to point out the effort came against the short-handed Mavericks.

"Here's the thing - we caught a break,'' Thibodeau said. "They're missing (Darren) Collison and Dirk (Nowitzki) and they played last night. And (O.J.) Mayo is dinged up with an ankle injury.''

Chicago still recovered from blowing a 27-point lead in a 93-92 loss to Milwaukee two days earlier as Luol Deng led five players in double figures with 22 points.

Nate Robinson had 14 points and a game-high six assists and Jimmy Butler scored a career-high 13 off the bench.

The Bulls' bench, which scored 10 points against the Bucks and ranks near the bottom of the Eastern Conference at 29.4 per game, bounced back to score a season-high 50.

"We understand we have a long season," said reserve Taj Gibson, who had eight points. "There's going to be a lot of bumps in the road, but we're sticking together.''

The Bulls' biggest problem in the playoff series against Philadelphia - aside from losing Derrick Rose - was failing to create turnovers. The 76ers gave it away just 9.8 times per game compared to Chicago's 14.3.

Philadelphia's 12.7 turnovers per game this season are the league's second-fewest.

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