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Game Preview: Suns host Bulls and their new All-Star Vucevic

Phoenix Suns try to win their 4th straight at home versus slumping Bulls.

Chicago Bulls v Golden State Warriors Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

What: Chicago Bulls (19-26) at Phoenix Suns (32-14)

When: Wednesday, 7:00PM AZ time

Where: Phoenix Suns Arena

Watch: Bally Sports Arizona (formerly FSAZ)

Listen: 98.7 FM


Your Phoenix Suns get to play the Chicago Bulls for the second time in a month, last beating the Bulls in Chicago 106-97.

A lot has changed for the Bulls since then, but the Suns keep rolling on. They try for their 4th straight win tonight versus a slumping but dangerous Bulls team.

Probable Starters

The Bulls starting lineup could completely change by game time. LaVine has ankle pain, so he might be replaced. And until Vuc was acquired, Lauri Markkanen was a starter in the front court.

Bulls Update

When the Suns faced the Bulls last, they were playing well at 15-16 on the season — which gives you playoff hope in the East — and winners of 5 of their last 6 games before the Suns matchup. But starting with that Suns loss, the Bulls have lost 10 of their last 14 games including six of their last seven.

Enter All-Star Nikola Vucevic, who they acquired from the Orlando Magic for Wendell Carter Jr. The Bulls have lost the two games Vuc has played, but you can expect it’s only a matter of time for him to have a positive impact on that team. In two games, he has averaged 21 points, 9 rebounds and 4.5 assists in 29 minutes per game.

A player who’s hobbling lately is Zach LaVine. LaVine, who made his first All-Star team, is doing his best Devin Booker impression earlier this year with 27.5 points, 4.8 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game. He’s doing it with even better three-point shooting numbers (43% on 8 per game!) and has a 60% true shooting mark to show for it. But lately, LaVine has been battling a bad ankle, posting just 15 points and 2.5 assists in the Vuc games. There’s talk he might sit out the Suns game for rest.

Still, the Bulls are going to be a tough out. The Suns will need to show up focused to win this game.

Suns Update

I like this comment from podcast partner Espo last night as he watched the Suns pull one out against the tough Atlanta Hawks, a team that has recently done the opposite of the Bulls and come all the way BACK to even in the East with high quality recent play.

Only the Suns, Jazz and Bucks are in the Top 10 on both offense and defense this season. They have the league’s 3rd best net rating, meaning they’re winning decisively. They’ve won 24 of their last 30 games, including 6 of their last 7. They are 18 games over .500 for the first time in 10 years, their current winning percentage is in the top-5 of Suns HISTORY and their 32-14 record is second best in the whole NBA.

So you’d think, watching game after game, it would be easier for us to understand just how good they are. But it’s not easy, is it? Watching them, you’re not thinking ‘definitely a Finals contender’, are you? Devin Booker seems to be in a slump. Chris Paul too. Even super-sub Dario Saric lost his mojo recently. And Deandre Ayton is more up and down than anyone can stand. They play slow (26th in pace), make a lot of short jumpers (2nd in 2P%) and rarely bully their way to the free throw line on offense (30th and dead last in FTA). On defense, don’t get the blocks (27th in the league, per game), or the steals (25th), or rebound all that well (19th). So you think, oh they have great closers who win every close game. Nah, they’re not all that great in the clutch either, at 13-11 this year in clutch games.

How are they so damn good, then? Because they do all the right things almost all the time, much the way the Spurs used to. They win by doing more things right than the other team. Give credit to head coach Monty Williams and his no-name coaching staff, to Chris Paul and to Jae Crowder for setting the right tone for being focused on every single play. And to James Jones for assembling one of the best rosters in the league in a totally undersold fashion that still has the nation confused how it’s all fitting together so well.

James Jones has given Monty Williams a host of ‘winning’ players around the young core of Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges just like we all dreamed after that 2018 Draft. We all knew you could build a contender around those three, and James knew it too. Now those guys are being carried to wins by a hundred little things all game. Every rotation player, and then some, does whatever it takes to win. Even this last acquisition, of Torrey Craig off the end of the Bucks bench for a stack of cash, seems like another stroke of understated genius by the guy who should be Executive of the Year.

Take Tuesday’s game as a case in point: Seven different Suns player scored in double figures against the Hawks, including all five starters. It marks the sixth time this season seven or more Phoenix players have finished in double figures, and the fifth time doing so at home. The Suns are 6-0 when that happens.

Enjoy this, Suns fans. It’s a Jackson Pollack painting in all its glory.

Stats

Prediction

Would be foolish to predict anything but a Suns win. However, the Suns DO have a tendency to play down to their competition, the most recent being the loss to Vuc’s Orlando Magic last week before the trade deadline.

Still, I’m feeling positive.

Suns by 10.