What: Phoenix Suns (34-29) vs. Chicago Bulls (29-34)
When: 6 p.m. AZ Time
Where: The United Center, Chicago, Illinois
Watch: Bally Sports AZ
Listen: 98.7 FM
The last time these two teams matched up, Devin Booker had himself a game to remember - 51 in three quarters, in just over 30 minutes of play - en route to a 132-113 win.
The Suns as a whole had one of their nine 50% from the field, 40% from deep games of the season, speaking not just to the efficiency Booker saw, but also that the Suns as a whole saw - stemming from the tone set from Devin.
The Bulls come into this one as winners of three of their last four, following a five-game losing streak.
They’ve seen a revelation and rebalancing of sorts with the acquisition of hometown kid, Patrick Beverley, following his contract buyout from Orlando that followed being traded from the Los Angeles Lakers.
He’s infused them with a few doses of accountability that hadn’t quite existed prior to his addition and is already having its effect.
They - surprisingly to most - have a bottom-third offense on the season, while boasting a top-five defense.
Zooming in even more, since the new year, they have the second-best non-garbage time defensive rating (109.7) in the NBA and have the third-best half-court defensive rating (95.3).
They are stingy at the three-point line, with the intent on running opposing teams off it and funneling inside the arc, showing bodies in lanes, and also love to dictate the pace in pick-and-roll.
They have a group of frontcourt pieces with solid foot speed and lateral mobility, and switched to a consistently more aggressive lateral coverage, with them either at the level of the screen or up to touch before dropping back.
They have two linchpins to anchor the defense in those scenarios, in Beverley and Caruso, who were both inserted into their starting lineup two weeks ago to help fortify that lineup's defensive tenacity - while also balancing out the offensively-inclined approaches of DeRozan, LaVine, and Vucevic.
The two gritty defenders are both feisty, frenetic, and physical at the point of attack, and are often seen inducing more communication when on the weak side, in directing traffic, while looking to top-lock or chase with physicality.
They are at times susceptible to good ball movement burning their rotations, and also play a smaller lineup, which could certainly bode well in the suddenly much bigger Suns.
· Chris Paul
· Devin Booker
· Josh Okogie
· Kevin Durant
· Deandre Ayton
· Patrick Beverley
· Zach LaVine
· Alex Caruso
· DeMar DeRozan
· Nikola Vucevic
- Landry Shamet (foot) is OUT
- Terrence Ross (toe) is QUESTIONABLE
- Javonte Green (knee) is OUT
- Lonzo Ball (knee) is OUT
What to Watch For
How the Suns go about attacking the Bulls solid defense.
I mentioned earlier just how good their defense has been both generally and in the half-court since the new year, however, the variance in stature that the Suns bring to the table, in addition to the ways in which the Suns manipulate space, is something to watch for.
Teams will opt to be aggressive against the Suns, electing to err on the side of aggression rather than reacting against the attack of Paul/Booker/Durant.
We saw, in multiple instances against Charlotte, how the Suns went about attacking aggressive schemes - essentially taking their aggression and flipping it into an advantage - either flattening out an opposing attack or stretching it into advantages.
This was such a clever reject from CP3 to open Booker on this Spain rep at the end last night's game— Stephen PridGeon ☯️ (@StayTrueSDot3) March 2, 2023
The IQ & patience in tandem with Ayton & Booker here is such a weapon pic.twitter.com/8wV3HqmgDr
The Suns have also been solid on the glass of late, I’m curious how they’ll fare in a game where the stature advantage in starting lineups is certainly in their favor, with the Bulls posing a three-guard lineup.
Lastly, with Zach LaVine averaging 28.1 points over his last 12 games on 54.2/39.0/87.5 shooting, I’m curious as to how Okogie matches up with a guard that blends pick-and-roll play with off-screen and off-ball movement, as well as isolation, into a pyrotechnic and unpredictable-type manner.
Sidenote: I am cautiously curious as to if Billy Donovan and company decide to start Patrick Williams in this one, seeing that Durant isn’t the ideal matchup for Caruso or Beverley.
Keys to a Suns Win
Defending without fouling, DeMar DeRozan is as crafty as it gets with putting defenders in precarious situations via his elite pump fake combinations.
Crash the glass to end defensive possessions, but also to enable more flow over the pace of the game.
Staying sharp at the mesh point of switches, as the Bulls love to have Caruso/Dosunmu/Beverley screen for DeRozan and LaVine to then get switches.
Early help shown from the weak side of the floor on the Bulls side pick-and-roll, as they use interesting angles for their drag screens in an emptied side - via logo-located pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop, especially while the defense isn't set.
The Suns will snatch a win against a desperate Chicago Bulls team that is slowly reversing its fortunes and clawing back into the Play-In realm.