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Bulls' struggles vs. elite teams adds Embiid-Harden test

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The Chicago Bulls are 0-3 against the Philadelphia 76ers this season and have lost by an average of 8.3 points.

The 76ers are 4-0 with James Harden this season and have won by an average of 17 points.

Something doesn’t have to give.

Monday presents a tall task for the shorthanded Bulls, who still are without Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball as they try to avoid both a season sweep by the 76ers and a season-high five-game losing streak.

Harden sat out the 76ers’ loss to the Heat on Saturday with hamstring tightness but isn’t listed on the injury report for Monday’s game in Philadelphia. Along with Joel Embiid playing on an MVP level all season, the game screams matchup problems for the Bulls.

“He and Embiid look like they’ve been playing together for a long time. They have a good chemistry already,” Javonte Green said. “If Harden went anywhere, he’d make that team better.”

Harden is averaging 26.8 points, 12 assists and 7.5 rebounds since the 76ers acquired him from the Nets, while Embiid has averaged 29.3 points and 11.7 rebounds this season against the Bulls.

Embiid is 10-0 in his career against the Bulls. And with the way he and Harden have looked in their brief time together, that unbeaten mark may not change.

“There are certain players — I’d put DeMar (DeRozan) in that category — that come into new situations and are so elite offensively, they can figure out how to adjust and make the group better,” coach Billy Donovan said of Harden’s arrival. “You can put him in any kind of actions and they’re going to be good.

“They’ve been really good offensively. Embiid is an elite player with the things he can do. Harden has been an elite scorer for a long, long time. The other guys too — (Matisse) Thybulles’s defense, (Tobias) Harris’ ability to play power forward when he’s really like a guard — they’ve got a lot of flexibility and versatility with their team.”

Nikola Vučević lifted weights but sat out Sunday’s practice at the Advocate Center with tightness in his right hamstring. He’s listed as questionable on the injury report.

Vučević's absence prevented Donovan from getting some practice time acclimation for Vučević and Tristan Thompson, who he started together in Friday’s loss to the Bucks. Following that game, Donovan sounded like a coach who wanted to further that experiment, but it doesn’t sound like it will happen — at least as a starting look — on Monday.

“It all depends on who’s Tristan going to match up with and they’re a hard team to match up with because Tobias is at the 4 (power forward),” Donovan said. “It was a little different with Milwaukee and the way they played with their two bigs. That could be hard.

“Tristan has the ability to guard a lot of different positions. We gotta build that out a little bit more offensively for those two guys. We haven’t really had an opportunity to do that.”

The Bulls enter play 2-14 against teams with a .600 or better win percentage, and have yet to beat any of the East's top three teams: Miami, Philadelphia or Milwaukee.

“When you go through losing against good teams, if you’re not taking the lessons from it and really learning, then it’s a wasted opportunity,” Donovan said.

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