PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Forget tanking.
Rookie Michael Carter-Williams and the Philadelphia 76ers can’t lose.
Pegged in the preseason to be one of the league’s worst teams, the Sixers continued their stunning start to the season, beating the Chicago Bulls 107-104 on Saturday night behind 26 points and 10 assists from Carter-Williams.
Evan Turner had 20 points and Spencer Hawes added 18 points and 11 rebounds for the supposedly rebuilding Sixers (3-0), who have already defeated the Washington Wizards and two-time defending champion Miami Heat to rise to first place in the Atlantic Division.
“We understand what everybody has said and written about us,” first-year coach Brett Brown said. “Our guys have put in the day-to-day stuff, which has always been our message. I’m lucky I’ve found a group that enjoys each other’s company and they enjoy playing together.”
Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 22 points and 10 rebounds and Luol Deng had 20 points. Still dealing with neck soreness, Derrick Rose finished with 13 points and six assists for Chicago, shooting 4 for 14 from the field and committing eight turnovers.
“I would blame tonight on me,” said Rose, who wore tape around his neck for the second straight game. “Turnovers, missed shots, miscommunication — I just couldn’t get in my groove.”
After trailing by as many as 18 points earlier in the second half, the Sixers took a 100-99 lead with 3:29 left after Carter-Williams picked up a loose ball and calmly laid it in. It was the Sixers’ first time in front since they led 11-10 midway through the first quarter.
Rose buried a 3-pointer with 2:12 left to put the Bulls in front 104-102 but the 2011 MVP committed turnovers on the next two Chicago possessions, allowing the Sixers to tie the game on a layup by Turner and then take a 105-104 lead when Turner made one of two free throws with 1:30 remaining.
With 5.9 seconds left, Hawes made a jumper to put the Sixers ahead 107-104, and Deng missed a potentially game-tying 3-pointer on the other end.
“At the end, they got to almost every loose ball and hit almost every shot they needed to win the game,” Rose said.
Carter-Williams, the Sixers’ prized first-round draft pick out of Syracuse, said he relished the chance to play against Rose, just one night after going toe-to-toe with Washington’s John Wall.
And Rose, who sat out the entire 2012-13 season with a knee injury, looked at times unable to slow down Carter-Williams, who drove the lane with the kind of fearlessness and determination usually seen in veterans.
The rookie was 10 for 22 from the field and had three steals.
“Coach gives me a lot of confidence out there,” Carter-Williams said. “I’m able to play freely and I just try to make things happen within the team. I try to do my job out there and get all my teammates involved. They did a great job. And when they do a great job, it makes me look good.”
In the first half, the Bulls looked like one of the NBA’s premier teams, as they’re supposed to be. Dominating the inside and outrebounding the Sixers by a wide margin, Chicago closed the first quarter on a 24-11 run before increasing the lead to 20 late in the second quarter.
But a 3 by Hawes followed by a driving layup through traffic from Carter-Williams cut the Bulls’ lead to 79-74 with just under 5 minutes remaining in the third quarter, getting the crowd back into the game. And the Sixers had a chance to take the lead after three quarters but a pullup jumper by Darius Morris rolled around the rim and out.
“In this league, no lead is safe,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I know you get tired of hearing that. But in one minute, a team can make up 10 points very quickly.”
Five Bulls ended up scoring in double figures, with Taj Gibson getting 12 and Joakim Noah adding 10 points and nine rebounds. Kirk Hinrich was effective spelling Rose with nine points and six assists.
But Thibodeau knows his team won’t be able to start churning out wins until Rose starts playing like he did two seasons ago.
“It’s hard to execute when you don’t practice,” he said. “We need time in the gym. He’ll work his way through it. He’ll be fine.”
Brown, meanwhile, doesn’t have too many concerns about his team, as his young players are flying high and putting all talk of a high pick in the 2014 NBA Draft to bed for now.
On Saturday, Brown played all 11 players available, with 10 of them scoring. Thaddeus Young finished with 13 points and Tony Wroten added 11 for the Sixers, who shot 48.8 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range.
“I’m surprised we’ve been able to score at the rate that we’ve able to score,” Brown said. “I didn’t know they had it in them.”
NOTES: Before Saturday’s loss, the Bulls had won five straight over the Sixers, dating to 2011-12. . Saturday’s game marked the first of four straight at home for the Sixers. . Philadelphia rookie Brandon Davies made his NBA debut and banked in his first shot as a professional.
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