Bulls 122, Suns 111 – Another dead end

Noah and the Bulls seemed to get to every loose ball quicker than Amare and the Suns. (AP/Rick Scuteri)

It’s getting harder and harder to have faith in the Phoenix Suns these days.

Aside from Leandro Barbosa, Grant Hill and maybe Steve Nash, it just didn’t seem like anybody really cared that awful much while the Suns dropped another one, this time 122-111 to Chicago.

Yes, the same Chicago team whose owner called the Bulls a “disaster” and an “organizational failure” a mere day ago, and the same Bulls team that averages less than 100 points per game and ranks a mere 24th in offensive efficiency.

Chicago recorded a season-high point total by killing Phoenix on the hustle plays, corralling eight extra offensive rebounds and winning the battle of the boards by seven.

The most telling play of the night came in the second quarter when Kirk Hinrich missed a free throw and then ran unimpeded to grab the offensive board while Nash screamed at an official, likely arguing Hinrich left too early.

The Suns’ bigs, meanwhile, just stood and watched the whole play take place as Joakim Noah powered through for a follow slam after Hinrich missed his shot. The Suns may as well not have been on the floor they made such a poor effort to rebound the basketball in that instance.

It was like that all night in a game Phoenix never led, with the Bulls answering every time the Suns made a run.

This defeat brings on a bevy of ugly team stats the Suns must be embarrassed of.

The loss dropped Phoenix to 7-8 in January, their first sub-.500 month since Steve Nash arrived for his second tour of duty. The team has also lost seven of 10 overall and two in a row at home. Four of those losses have come to the T-Wolves, Knicks, Bobcats and Bulls, who have now swept the Suns for the first time since MJ’s 1996-97 club did so. Yikes!

The Suns just looked lifeless out there and the definition of playing “fake hard,” which former UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill last year described as “going through the motions of playing hard but not executing.”

Maybe the phrase seems like such an apt descriptor to me because last year’s Wildcats featured an uber-talented starting lineup with one lottery pick and two potential future lottery picks but no bench. Those Wildcats had all the offensive talent in the world but refused to play anything more than mediocre defense, rarely beating good teams and tripping up against a couple bad ones.

History would write that those Wildcats would sweat out Selection Sunday, barely making the NCAA Tournament before flaming out in the first round to a West Virginia team that couldn’t match Arizona in pure talent. To the final minutes of their NCAA Tournament loss I felt they could turn it on at any moment and rip off an Elite Eight run, but instead the Cats went down with barely a whimper.

The season in the end will most be remembered for a coaching change from an up-tempo legend absolutely adored by the Tucson community to a less-heralded coach who took much of the freedom away from the offense to the chagrin of many players.

Reread those last couple paragraphs. If I switched out “Wildcats” for “Suns” how much of it still would be true?

By my account, pretty much all of it.

What I take from that comparison is we can’t just be waiting for the Suns to one day turn on a switch and be the team some of the loyal fans think they can be, the team they have always been. If they don’t start playing with the emotion and passion of the Bulls Saturday night, they’d be lucky to even get to the playoffs.

When I was the Arizona Daily Wildcat men’s hoops beat writer last year talking to the players in the locker room after the season ended, it just seemed like they were emotionally drained and ready for the year to be done.

Suns fans can only hope that that image doesn’t repeat itself in three months with Steve Nash and Co., tired from a change in styles, tired of changing personnel, tired of losing.

What’s next?

I’m not sure anybody with the possible exception of Steve Kerr has an answer for that.

“I don’t know,” Amare Stoudemire told Suns.com. “We’ve been talking about this all year – trying to figure out a way to change things or get better – so I don’t know. We ask players to try and figure it out, coaching staff and everybody is trying to figure it out, but right now no progress.”

On paper, I still think the Suns can be a serious contender in the Western Conference, but anybody who has watched them this month would be hard-pressed to call them anything more than a contender for the eighth spot in the West.

And if they’re losing games to the Bulls and the Timberwolves, what’s going to happen when the Lakers and Hornets come to town?

This game wasn’t all negative. LB played his best game of the year with a season-high 32 points and Grant Hill was more than solid again with a 19-5-5, but those are about the only positives that come to mind to me.

The list of negatives is certifiably longer.

Outside of Barbosa, the bench produced three points in 19 minutes. Where have you gone, Matt Barnes?

Also, Nash’s 15 and 10 day would look a whole lot better if it weren’t complemented by a whopping seven turnovers, and Amare grabbed just one rebound by halftime and six for the game to go with 12 points, only three after intermission. Where have we heard that before?

At this point, the best thing that could happen is for somebody to say something outlandish that pisses off and fires up the troops.

Reinsdorf rips the Bulls and they win two games in two nights, including Saturday’s inspired effort from a talented Chicago team that has underachieved all season. Just ask a Bulls fan.

It’s not acceptable for a squad featuring Nash, Shaq, Amare, Hill, J-Rich and LB to be floundering around playoff contention.

Wonder which team Reinsdorf thinks is a “disaster” now.

Tags: Amar'e Stoudemire Leandro Barbosa

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  • http://www.bullsbythehorns.com Matt McHale

    The great Red Auerbach referred to "fake hard" play as "false hustle." We've been seeing that out of Amare a lot this year. In point of fact, we've seen it out of him his whole career. The only thing he enjoys while playing basketball is scoring. Defense, going after contested rebounds, diving, banging inside…you know, the little things necessary to win…simply aren't his thing.

    For all the talk there's been in Chicago about firing Vinny Del Negro, I think that there should be more furor over dumping Terry Porter. No offense to Terry, because I've always been a fan, but the circumstances are completely different. I mean, the Bulls won 33 games last year and are a young team that's going to be together for a long time.

    The Suns are a formerly great team with a window that's slamming shut. There's no time to waste with these guys. And man, every player on that team looks miserable. I recently watched some of the games I recorded from 2005 and 2006 and it was like seeing different people.

    Also, I'm officially dubbing Shaq "The Big David Copperfield," since he seems to be making his teammates disappear. Or maybe that's Porter. I mean, look at how well Boris and Raja are playing in Charlotte. The only person playing better under Terry is Shaq.

  • Will

    Their downhill started when Amare came back after missing almost all of the 2004-5 season. The Suns chemistry without worked too well as funny as that sounds. That's why they gave Diaw that huge contract that off season thinking they were going to be better. But when Amare came back Diaw's minutes decreased and naturally so did his production. It also stunt the chemistry they had without Amare. When they were losing Shawn Marion became the scapegoat and he wanted to leave.

  • Andrew Markopoulos

    Amidst all of this frustration and trade talk we have not taken a moment to sit back and take a good(not nostalgic)look at our recent past and actually see that as always the solution lies where we do not care to look at first. At the end of my Comment i will be presenting us with a few trade ideas but before that,allow me to explain where i am comming from. We have all seen and been amazed by the power,precision and finishing abilites that Stoudemire possesses,we have seen him progress in aspects of his game with his outside jumper and remain stagnant with his help defense and boxing out. Nobody is perfect,that’s why in this game you have team-mates that cover your deficiencies and help you in the same way you help them. It’s not about the 5 best players on the court it’s about the 5 players the play best for the team. The does mean of course that Amare in his search for greatness and acceptence as complete player should not work harder on his game elements that are lacking and just rely on others. What i mean to say is that he is our future and we should surround him through the years with players that will work well with him. Steve Nash is the face of this franchise,in a perfect world we should just allow him to decide when he want’s to leave and absolutely not the other way around. He is everything this team and organization needed,needs and has,an unselfish player who makes everyone around him better,a leader,clutch player,strong but calm voice in the locker room. In a system that doesn’t work for him or through him he is trying to make the most of it for others but unfortunately his few shortcomings are showing now and sometimes costing us in games. Can’t hide from the truth. He needs help in the backcourt. The coach has to use him and rotate things around him in a way to protect him and utilize his many many strengths. Nash can be our Stockton(playing at a high level for 4 more years)while at the same time smoothing the transition to a younger player in a couple of season,if not next year. At the end of the day,It’s obvious that although we love Shaq and his new found energy and even though i still believe that we can be fearsome in the playoffs,in my opinion,the way that he is canceling out Stat in the paint with the force feeding he requires and Steve nash’s up tempo game(even in mild form) plus his serious pick n’ roll defence problems.Now that Shaq’s trade value is up let’s try to ship him out and try getting a defense-rebound-mid range jumper player like (Hawes,Bogut,Murphy or even Rasheed Wallace)(someone like kurt thomas…)along with a guard that can control the tempo and just be tough.(sessions,jack,marcus williams,conley,)dangle barbosa or richardson to get the guard you need and just get a filler for shaq. It’s much smarter to trade a 36 year old great player that hurts the production of your other 2 great players. If not for Nash do it for Grant Hill who has been an inspiration this year.

    Sorry about the long post…

  • Jordan

    Andrew Markopoulos, in a dream fantasy world, the Suns would be able to trade Shaq. Pat Riley is still smiling for being able to unload that massive contract, that still has $42 million left on it. No team in the NBA would be willing to take on Shaq's contract outside of maybe the Bulls (getting rid of Hinrich and Larry Hughes) and they don't have what the Suns need. LOL LOL LOL for Bogut, Hawes. Come on. You need to be realistic. What do the Kings or Bucks need with Shaq? Hawes and Bogut are their respective futures and the cornerstones for their franchises. I'm sure Marcus Williams is available, but nobody else you've mentioned, ESPECIALLY Conley and Sessions, would be made available for anyone on the Suns outside of Amare Stoudemire. The Suns are talented, but old. All of their best assets have negative caveats. Barbosa has a reasonable contract, but he's never been the most strong-minded and people question his mental toughness and his game toughness. Matt Barnes makes less than $800,000. Jason Richardson has 3 years at $13 million per and a history that includes a knee injury for a guy who makes a living off his athleticism. Amare Stoudemire doesn't rebound, acts the part of a diva and can't play a lick of defense, oh, and he has a chemistry disruption history as well as a balky knee. Trading Shaq sounds nice, but the Suns should move Amare for a bunch of young talent and begin the process of rebuilding while still being able to contend in the immediate future.

  • Suns fan in Portland

    I say fire Porter. Hire Reggie Theus. Give it the season and try to make it work, if it tanks, blow it up in the off-season.

    This team on paper is a championship contender and Porter's blowing it. He's a good coach but it's just a bad fit. (Not that it would be easy to walk into a job and tell Shaq, Nash, Hill & Amare what to do…)

    I do wish we could trade Shaq as mentioned above but the money makes it very improbable. I really wish we could trade away Sarver and get Colangelo back. Go back to the bank count beans instead of ruining our Suns! (Sarvers' cheapness has worked out nicely for my Blazers tho!!!)

    Fire Porter, Fire Kerr, and run Sarver out of town!!!