Bulls 100, Suns 83 – No help for Amare

Raja and the Suns had no answers for the Bulls all night. (AP/Paul Beaty)

Raja and the Suns had no answers for the Bulls all night. (AP/Paul Beaty)

In hindsight I’m glad I wrote about how well the Suns’ offense performed in its first five games before Friday’s contest in Chicago because those stats won’t be so shiny when Phoenix wakes up Saturday morning.

The offense that was a well-oiled machine through five games sputtered its way to a 100-83 loss that was a blowout ever since the Bulls exploded on a 19-1 run that put them up 16 with eight minutes left in the first half.

Nobody showed up offensively except for Amare Stoudemire, who followed up Wednesday’s 49-point outburst with 26 well-earned points off 16-for-18 free-throw shooting, with the Bulls’ active bigs unwilling to give him anything easy all night.

For the game, the Suns shot just 40.6 percent after entering the contest shooting a league-best 55.4 percent, hitting below 54 percent just once all season before this game.

The Suns now average 89 points per game in their two losses and 109.3 in their four wins.

Only Robin Lopez and Boris Diaw joined Amare in double figures in this one, while Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Leandro Barbosa combined for just 11 points on 4-for-19 shooting (21.1 percent) in 62 combined minutes of play.

Not only could the Suns not shoot, but they were pounded on the glass by a 47-33 margin. Joakim Noah, whom the Suns were interested in had they received the Atlanta lottery pick in 2007, doubled the Suns’ individual rebound high by corralling 14 caroms off the bench, and his six offensive boards bested Phoenix’s total in that category.

The Suns’ only offensive weakness through their first five games, turnovers, reared its ugly head in this one as well against an aggressive Chicago defense that forced 18 in the game, including 12 during the decisive first half.

“It was disappointing,” head coach Terry Porter told Suns.com. “The way we started this game, we just didn’t seem to have the fire tonight. We have been really sharp lately but did not have that for tonight. These guys (the Bulls) got the turnovers and out into the open court. They got the offensive boards and that with our turnovers was too big a hill to climb.”

Missing Shaq and Barnes

If the Suns wanted an excuse for their pitiful performance, they do have the handy justification of missing two starters in Shaq and Matt Barnes.

Barnes of course is in the Bay Area for the birth of his twins, while Shaq took off the game to stay fresh, a technique the Suns hope will prevent him from suffering the type of injuries that have held him to an average of 53 games the past three seasons.

“Rather than let it happen, why not be proactive?” general manager Steve Kerr asked on My45′s broadcast.

It will be interesting to chart the Suns’ record in games without Shaq, as they’re now 0-1 with a blowout loss to an inferior team. If their record differentiates significantly, you’ve got to wonder how quickly the Suns would pull the plug on the idea, especially when wins will be crucial for playoff positioning or God forbid just to reach the playoffs down the stretch.

The Suns obviously sat him out against Chicago’s quick and athletic front line to save him for Milwaukee’s true center in Andrew Bogut, but I wonder how that decision will be made in future games. When there’s no obvious matchup difference in the middle between two games of a back-to-back, will the Suns basically be telling a team, “We’re sitting Shaq against you because we think we can beat you without him more easily than our next opponent?”

That could be a motivational gold mine for the opposing coach, because you know Shaq is never going to be sitting against the Lakers or the Rockets.

The positives

The biggest bright spot of the game came in the strong outing of rookie center Robin Lopez, who started in place of Shaq.

Lopez played his best game as a pro, scoring 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting to go with seven boards (three offensive) and a pair of sick blocks in 30 minutes. His points were the most of any Sun not named Amare and his rebound total tied Amare for the team lead.

Lou Amundson also stood out, again, with seven points and four boards in 23 minutes as well as a hustling style that’s sure to endure him to fans and coach Porter.

Count Kerr among his admirers, as the GM spoke of how the Suns have had their eye on him for some time during the broadcast.

“He’s going to play an important role for us,” Kerr said.

Also, one positive to being blown out was that the Suns played their bench in the fourth quarter to rest their starters for Saturday’s game in Milwaukee. That paid dividends when the Suns’ blowout win Tuesday in New Jersey allowed their key cogs to rest up for Wednesday’s contest in Indiana.

Tags: Amar'e Stoudemire

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