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Phoenix Suns vs. Chicago Bulls: Preview, Analysis and Predictions

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Phoenix Suns vs. Chicago Bulls: Preview, Analysis and Predictions
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Leaving the friendly confines of the US Airways Center has proved quite the daunting task for the Steve Nash-less Phoenix Suns.

The last road victory for Phoenix came on November 27. Their 12-game road losing streak has been even worse than it sounds, with the Suns losing those games by an average of 12.3 points.

But Saturday night's visit to the United Center may be their best chance to shake their traveling demons.

Entering Friday night, the Chicago Bulls held just a 10-9 home record on the season, the worst such mark of any team in the postseason discussion. Chicago's offense has managed just 92.3 points per game at home, more than a 2.5 dip from its road average of 95.

Unfortunately for the Suns, that's about their only glimmer of hope in this matchup.

Phoenix has dropped five straight overall and 11 of its past 12 games. Their offense isn't that potent to begin with (96 points per game, 19th in the NBA), a troubling statistic given coach Tom Thibodeau's always stingy defense (91.9 points allowed, third fewest in the league).

Chicago, meanwhile, has come out on the right side in five of its past seven games. Since December 1, the club holds a .650 winning percentage, going 13-7 over that stretch.

Both teams will be playing their second straight game in as many nights. Chicago held off the New York Knicks 108-101, while Phoenix was routed by the Brooklyn Nets 99-79.

 

Time: Saturday, January 12, 8 p.m. ET

TV: NBA League Pass

Records: Phoenix Suns (12-25), Chicago Bulls (19-14)

Betting Line: Bulls -7.5 (according to Vegas Insider Consensus)

 

Injuries (via CBSSports.com)

Suns

Channing Frye (shoulder/heart), out

 

Bulls

Kirk Hinrich (elbow), questionable

Derrick Rose (knee), out

 

Key Matchup

Marcin Gortat, C, vs. Joakim Noah, C, Bulls

Gortat has struggled in his second full season in the desert, but a big caveat for his drop in production (11.6 points per game) has been his relative lack of involvement in coach Alvin Gentry's offense.

After attempting nearly 12 shots per game in 2011-12, the big man has seen less than 9.5 shots per game come his way. And this has come despite his being five percentage points clear of the second-best shooter on the roster (53.8).

An offensive dip should have been expected with the offseason departure of Steve Nash, particularly when Nash's replacement was not pass-first rookie Kendall Marshall, but rather scoring guard Goran Dragic.

And it's not as if Gentry can afford to ask for more assists from Dragic, not when he's been their most consistent offensive threat (11.6 points per game).

But with the Bulls likely to slow the pace, the Suns will need to maximize their offensive trips by taking the best shots available. Even if it means leaving Gortat with the unenviable task of trying to create buckets against Chicago's defensive savant, Joakim Noah.

Maybe it's the hair. Or some leftover resentment toward Noah's wildly successful collegiate career.

Whatever the cause, Noah has seen a nearly unmatched hate from hoops fans outside of Chicago.

That's probably not overly bothersome to him, though. And certainly not with the way the Windy City has appreciated all of the little things that he brings to the basketball court.

He's still earning his checks on the defensive end (10.5 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.3 per game), but he's capably shouldered a greater offensive load with Derrick Rose still sidelined rehabbing a torn ACL suffered in the opening round of the 2012 postseason.

His 12.3 points per game has him on pace for a new career high, but his biggest offensive impact stems from his ability to keep the Bulls offense flowing without their point guard. His 4.3 assists per game isn't simply a new career best, it's more than double his career average (2.0).

 

X-Factors

Goran Dragic, PG, Suns

As mentioned above, Dragic is the leading scorer on the Suns.

He isn't a premier perimeter shooter, but he's capable of shooting from distance (32.4 percent in 2012-13, 35.6 percent for his career).

His main contribution lies in his recognition of his strengths and weaknesses. With a consistent mid-range jumper and the strength and quickness to finish plays off the dribble, Dragic has a knack of finding his most effective spots on the floor.

He's effective running the pick-and-roll and understands how to read defenses and make his adjustments on the fly.

Coach Thibodeau may throw the defensive gauntlet his way, with the heady veteran Hinrich (if he's healthy enough to go), the athletic Nate Robinson and the speedy Marquis Teague all possibly set to draw his number.

 

Luol Deng, SF, Bulls

The versatile small forward may not be posting the superstar numbers Chicago fans had hoped to see, but he has given the club effective, consistent production on a nightly basis.

The league leader in minutes per game at 40.2 has the offensive ability and defensive tenacity to win games for his team on both ends of the floor.

He ranks among Chicago's best in scoring (17.4 points per game, first), steals (1.1, tied for second) and rebounding (6.8, third).

He'll have his work cut out for him on the offensive end with the looming matchup against defensive-stopper P.J. Tucker. But Deng's too potent for Tucker to stop, and could pad his stat total whenever the defenseless Michael Beasley faces him.

Of course, Deng is talented enough to positively impact the Bulls even when he's struggling to find points.

 

Depth Charts

Suns

Courtesy of ESPN.com.

 

Bulls

Courtesy of ESPN.com.

 

Prediction

Chicago Bulls 99, Phoenix Suns 83

The absence of Rose and potential absence of Hinrich are the only things keeping this prediction below a 20-point margin.

If the obvious mismatch of the Suns sputtering offense and the Bulls tenacious defense weren't bad enough, Chicago holds an overwhelming advantage in terms of raw talent. And yes, that talent gap is great even without Rose or Hinrich.

The Bulls don't have the offensive firepower to overwhelm the Suns out of the gate, so don't be surprised if Gentry's team keeps things close in the first half.

Ultimately, though, Chicago's depth will prove the decisive factor in this interconference matchup.

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