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Game Preview: The Phoenix Suns play host to the Chicago Bulls, on the second night of a back-to-back

The Phoenix Suns play host to the Chicago Bulls, looking to take their win streak to six.

Phoenix Suns v Chicago Bulls Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

What: Phoenix Suns (24-18) vs Chicago Bulls (21-23)

When: 7:00pm AZ Time

Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix, AZ

Watch: Arizona’s Family 3TV

Listen: 98.7 FM


The Phoenix Suns are playing some of the best basketball they have thus far this season. Yes, they put together a seven-game win streak in November, but it felt as if that was unsustainable seeing as Bradley Beal was out injured during that stretch. Devin Booker carried that team upon returning, but to have a good understanding of who and what this team is, you need to see the Big Three in action.

We’ve seen just that and it has been impressive. In 11 games together, and 214 minutes played together, the Big Three are a +80. They have a 128.4 offensive rating, 111.11 defensive rating, and +17.3 net rating.

Frank Vogel has begun unlocking the rotations and he’s finding things that are proving to be successful. Some small ball lineups, allowing Devin Booker to stay in for the entire first quarter, and keeping one of his stars on the floor at all times is beneficial.

The team is winning, and they’re beating some good competition along the way. In their last three games alone, they’ve defeated teams with better records than themselves, and are moving up the standings. They are currently tied for the sixth seed with the Dallas Mavericks, a team they will face on Wednesdays to begin their road trip.

Before Phoenix heads out on the road, they must play the Chicago Bulls. Chicago’s a team facing numerous injuries, and in a recent game against the Toronto Raptors, they lost Zach LaVine as he twisted his ankle. He will be out for tonight‘s game.

Chicago’s two games under .500 and fighting for relevance in the Eastern Conference. The team is constantly stuck in the middle, they don’t know whether they will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. LaVine is reportedly on the market and could net them a pretty price, but what Chicago is asking for might be too much, just like his contract. He is in year two of a five-year, $215 million max deal.

Phoenix defeated the Bulls earlier, beating them in overtime in Bradley Beal’s Suns’ debut in early November.

Starting Lineups

Suns

  • Devin Booker
  • Bradley Beal
  • Grayson Allen
  • Kevin Durant
  • Jusuf Nurkic

Bulls

  • Coby White
  • Alex Caruso
  • Patrick Williams
  • DeMar DeRozan
  • Nikola Vucevic

Injury Report

Suns

  • Damion Lee (knee) - is OUT
  • Bol Bol - (ankle) - is DAY TO DAY

Bulls

  • Zach LaVine (ankle) - is OUT
  • Torrey Craig (fascia) - is OUT
  • Lonzo Ball (knee) - is OUT

Suns Things to Watch For

The Phoenix Suns are 1-0 in their regular season series with the Chicago Bulls. In their matchup with the Bulls in early November, the Suns saw an 18-point lead slowly diminish as the finish line neared

However, a 140.9 offensive rating to open cannot be ignored.

We saw Bradley Beal used in a few different ways in the half court, as well as the Suns start to blend their dynamic pieces sans Booker — setting a loud and decisive tone.

Looking for them, now plenty more steps ahead and with Booker in the fold, to win the race to the first timeout, and set a tone similar to how they did in their November matchup with the Bulls, is a barometer. Generally, setting this sort of tone is where this team should be in asserting their process and pace on a game.

The second night of a back-to-back context is relevant for the Suns here as well.

Additionally, seeing them find their flow, and dictate offensively as they have of late, will also be imperative.

I am curious as to how the Bulls will match up with the Suns small ball “death” lineup.

A very small sample size of just 19 minutes (39 possessions), but their net is +53.53, with an offensive rating of 158.97 and a defensive rating of 105.41.

(Plenty more words to come on this unit).

Said unit is also turning the ball over just 7.7% of the time while forcing their opponents to do so at 21.6% — also taking away the three-point line in holding them to just 28.6%.

Keys to a Suns Win

Dictating with defense remains what sticks out with me most, of late, and in timely pockets of games.

It’s implied that a roster with the offensive weaponry that the Suns have atop their roster will be able to find their way, on efficiency, in the scoring department.

When they ease the burden of doing so so often in the half court, and enable themselves to play in the open floor — the highest percentage advantage to be created — they truly tilt things in their favor.

Above is an example of how they did so with Nurkic on the floor, and the game against Sacramento served as an example of doing so in downsizing — serving as a template to the lineup versatility and ways they can adapt lineup and scheme-wise to a game and opponents unique demands.

Over the win streak, they’re allowing just 112.2 points per game. That’s a mark that is the equivalent of 11th on a season-long scale, and also places the same since the inception of this win streak, on 1.11.2024.

Looking at the Bulls

The Bulls have a handful of players that the Suns can manipulate matchups with defensively, and stash a player like Nurkic on, tasking Durant with defending Vucevic initially in possessions, to make their main screener in Vucevic to be a switch-point — as they did above with Portland.

The Bulls run a ton of their offense through Nikola Vucevic. He is the hub of nearly everything they do offensively in a non-isolation context.

Since 11.30 (25 games since LaVine’s initial injury absence that forced an operation change to their offensive process) the Bulls have leaned plenty more into Vucevic. His usage percentage of 23.2 (82nd percentile) is a direct example of just that.

Additionally, he accounts for 18.3% of their assists in this window since the end of November, an 87th percentile rank.

He ranks fourth in the league in elbow touches this season, and where the Bulls use him most often to flow into handoffs and high splits as a connector.

(Sidenote: if you’re not following Steph on Twitter, change that!)

Flattening out the flow and his impact on their offense would make them more prone to static touches, and more isolation. Their offense includes a steady diet of multiple pick-and-play scenarios, having compiled the most possessions featuring a pick-and-roll in the league with 1,880, accounting for 35.9% of their offense.

They have also scored 1,824 points out of it, ranking 3rd in the league. Efficiency, however, is where they struggle. A PPP of .970 ranks 20th in the league, with plenty coming from the lack of shooting and viability in their spacing, as well as how they structure their spacing at times.

They’ve generated the 11th most catch-and-shoot three-point attempts, and rank 26th in percentage on those. The Suns should be able to stay home, pack the blocks and elbows as they did against New Orleans recently, and stay out of rotation.

Lastly, DeRozan and White are enjoying impressive seasons. DeRozan ranks 13th in isolation possessions, with a PPP of 1.000. When factoring in shots allocated to teammates out of this context — where he often draws attention in the form of help to shrink the floor as well as doubles — that number jumps to 1.12 (5th for players north of 180 iso’s this season).

The PPS mark for DeRozan in these scenarios is also 3rd out of the 13 players with 180+ isolation possessions this season — also a hefty part of the Bulls offensive process.

As for White, he’s shooting 52.5% on 15 drives per game since 11.30 when he officially has staked his true claim in the Bulls offense, at the helm. Inside 10 feet in this window, he’s at 56.4% on 6.6 attempts a game. In shot making, he’s at 52.6% from two, 40.5% from three, and 81% from the stripe — in modern shooting splits. He’s also at 40.7% on pull up’s from deep.

Containing the ball and keeping the defensive shell intact against the Bulls points of pressure will be intriguing to track.

Prediction

The Suns win 118-109 and extend their win streak to six.

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