Defensive-minded division leaders meet

Strong defense has keyed impressive starts for the Chicago Bulls and Philadelphia 76ers.

Of course, the Bulls also benefit from Derrick Rose’s ability to take over games.

Chicago hopes Rose’s determination to atone for his humiliating performance over the weekend still burns when the Bulls visit the 76ers in a matchup of division leaders Wednesday night.

After Rose missed two free throws and a possible tying jumper in the final 23 seconds of a 97-93 loss to Miami on Sunday, the reigning MVP vowed that he would not let the Bulls (18-5) down like that again.

He got a chance for redemption a day later in Washington and quickly set the tone in a 98-88 victory. Rose scored 13 first-quarter points and 15 in the third as Chicago built a 22-point lead. He finished with a season-high 35 points, going 10 of 20 from the field and 14 of 15 from the foul line.

“He comes out like it’s his will,” coach Tom Thibodeau said of Rose, who has scored 34, 34 and 35 in his last three games. “He imposes his will on everybody.”

If Rose is looking for another past shortcoming for motivation, the 76ers were one of only two teams to take a series from the Bulls last season. Chicago dropped two of three to the Sixers in 2010-11 and in the last meeting March 28, Rose scored 31 points but also had a career-worst 10 turnovers in a 97-85 defeat.

Philadelphia (15-6) is atop the Atlantic Division as it’s been able to take advantage of a soft schedule. The competition, however, is about to get much more difficult.

After facing the Bulls, the Sixers host the Heat on Friday and visit Atlanta the following night. They then open a three-game homestand against the Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio and the Clippers.

Philadelphia enters this tough stretch after beating underachieving Orlando 74-69 on Monday for its third consecutive victory.

“That was a much-needed win for us here with what we have ahead of us this week,” coach Doug Collins said.

The Sixers, who lead the league in scoring defense at 86.1 points per game – just ahead of Chicago’s 87.4 – had another solid defensive showing in shutting down the scuffling Magic. Philadelphia limited Orlando to nine third-quarter points – its fewest allowed in any quarter this season – and is yielding an average of 71.7 points and 35.5 percent shooting during its winning streak.

While the defense shined, Philadelphia struggled mightily on offense, finishing with a season-low point total and shooting 33.3 percent. Andre Iguodala had 14 points, making him the only Sixers starter to reach double figures.

Reserve Louis Williams, who averages a team-best 15.3 points for a team that relies on a balanced attack, had nine points and shot 4 of 13.

Although the Sixers won, they know they’ll have to play better to keep up with Rose, who also finally got some support in the Washington game.

When he scored 34 against the Heat, no other Bull scored more than 11. Against the Wizards, Carlos Boozer had 18 points, Kyle Korver scored 17 and Joakim Noah chipped in with 14 points, 13 rebounds and a career high-tying seven assists.

Boozer, averaging 20.8 points in Chicago’s last six victories compared to his total of 21 in its previous two defeats, averaged 20.7 points and 11.0 rebounds against the Sixers last season.

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