Have the Philadelphia 76ers lost six of their last eight games or have they won two of their last three? It depends on which Sixers fan you ask. But as far as the Chicago Bulls are concerned, Sunday night's nationally televised tilt against the resurgent Sixers gives them an opportunity to exact one thing:
Revenge. Which obviously isn't a new theme for a Bulls team led by reigning NBA MVP Derrick Rose, who has a sharp memory that seemingly never forgets a personal or organizational failure. The Bulls as a whole keenly remember the 98-82 drubbing they suffered at the hands of the Sixers on Feb. 1 at Wells Fargo Center.
After that contest, every player in the Bulls' locker room was very disappointed and not able to explain the collectively "sluggish" effort. Rose admitted he really couldn't "explain it. ... It was just one of them games the starters didn't come out and play the way we know how to play."
The Bulls began that game nicely but faded as the night wore on and were outscored 26-11 in the third quarter, a lackluster effort that changed the entire complexion of the game and put coach Tom Thibodeau's bunch in a hole they had no chance to dig out of, as the Sixers led by as many as 20 points in the second half and, overall, piled up a whopping 21 fast-break points.
Since that win, the Sixers, who have completely bought into veteran coach Doug Collins' schemes on both ends of the court, have lost nine of their last 15 games. Still, with Friday night's 105-83 victory over the Golden State Warriors, Philadelphia improved to 22-15 on the season, good for the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference.
Although they are just 6-12 against winning clubs, the Sixers rank third in the NBA in point differential with a plus-7.2. The Bulls rank first in that statistic at plus-9.6.
However, the Bulls are the ones who will be looking to send a message to the young, athletic Sixers, whom Chicago could very well face in the postseason. For them, last month's game was a wake-up call -- which they have clearly received, having won 12 of 14 games since.
Rose and his teammates have some anger bottled up, seeking revenge, and are confident they will come out of the gate strongly Sunday in Philadelphia, a matchup followed by the Central division rival Indiana Pacers coming into the United Center Monday night.
"[We have to] come out more prepared," Rose told reporters after Friday night's 112-91 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. "They're a good team. I think that we're kind of mad with the way they smacked us last time at their place. This is definitely going to be a fun game."