Nikola Vucevic and Ronnie Brewer battle for a loose ball Sunday. | Tom Mihalek~AP
The facts: 7, Ch. 9, 1000-AM.
Updated: April 6, 2012 8:12AM
PHILADELPHIA — Doug Collins almost signed up for a second stint with the Bulls before he and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf decided that it might strain their close relationship.
The Bulls hired Tom Thibodeau while Collins landed in Philadelphia, where he began his coaching career.
Talk about a win-win. The Bulls have blossomed into title contenders under Thibodeau, and Collins took a team that went 27-55 in 2009-10 and improved it by 14 games last season. It was the third-best improvement in franchise history.
The Sixers are gunning for their first division title since 2000-01. Collins had beaten the Bulls three consecutive times entering the game Sunday at Wells Fargo Center, which no other coach could claim.
“They are a proud team,” Collins said of the Bulls. “They defend very, very well. Tommy Thibodeau has done a wonderful job. Their defense is terrific. They rebound the ball, they shoot the three well. They have all the elements of a championship team.”
Collins’ team plays terrific defense, as well. The Sixers lead the league in scoring defense. The 87 points they allow per game are the fewest points in franchise history since the shot clock was implemented in 1954-55. They also lead the league in field-goal percentage against. The Bulls are second in points allowed and seventh in opposing field-goal percentage.
“Doug has done a great job with their team, not only with their individual defense, but their team defense,” Thibodeau said. “They have great speed, quickness. They play together defensively. You have to take care of the ball. They’re going to be in passing lanes. If you turn it over, they can convert very quickly.”
There have been some strange games between these teams since last season, including the Bulls’ 121-76 drubbing of the Sixers at the United Center last season.
“It was one of the toughest losses I ever had,” Collins said. “I was going back to Chicago and seeing all my friends and stuff and [was] a former Bulls coach. It was around Christmas time, and they messed up my Christmas the way they hammered us that night. But I thought it was a great experience for us. We came back a better team.”
C.J. Watson rolled his left ankle over Lou Williams’ foot late in the first half. He was helped to the locker room but returned later and scored seven of his nine points in the fourth quarter.
Watson was limping after the game. While his availability for Monday night’s game against the Indiana Pacers at the United Center was not immediately known, third point guard John Lucas III should be prepared to play.
“It’s going to hurt,” Watson said when asked how he thought his ankle would feel the morning after. “It hurts now. I’ll take it day-by-day.”