Preview: Chicago Bulls (7-5) at Phoenix Suns (7-7)

Bulls 123, Suns 115 2OT


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The Suns have a couple things working in their favor Wednesday when the Bulls roll into Phoenix for Game 5 of their annual “Circus Trip,” the typically brutal road jaunt while their home court is occupied by elephants and clowns.

The Bulls will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back that saw them meet the Lakers on Tuesday night.

The Bulls had the defending champs on the ropes, but faltered in the fourth quarter.

Additionally, forward Carlos Boozer remains sidelined as he rehabs a fractured hand. However, despite Boozer’s absence, the Bulls are the NBA’s third-best rebounding team. The Suns, as you probably know by now, are the league’s worst. Not among the worst; the worst.

Despite topping the Rockets on Monday to salvage a rough four-game road stretch at 1-3, the Suns lost the rebounding battle 51-33, including 18-6 on offensive boards. That was against a team whose rebounders included Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes and Brad Miller, who combine for just under 20 rebounds per game.

Chicago is a totally different matchup. The Bulls’ leading rebounder, Joakim Noah, is also the NBA’s second-leader with 13.3 per game. The Chicago big men — including Noah, Omer Asik and Taj Gibson — are averaging 24.6 rebounds per game. And forward Luol Deng is adding 6.1. Safe to say boards come pretty easy for this team.

The Suns can’t match the Bulls’ size with Robin Lopez out and the bulk of the rebounding load falling to chronically inept rebounders Channing Frye and Hakim Warrick, who has been more of a scorer. The Suns’ inability to rebound may very well cost them this game.

However, the Suns do have a certain two-time MVP sparking them. Point guard Steve Nash’s return to the lineup after two games out with a groin strained energized the team to a solid win over Houston. The Suns have had various deficiencies over the past six seasons, but Nash’s presence alone has seemed to almost always keep them in contention.

Since his 2004 return to Phoenix, the Suns are 9-19 without Nash in the lineup. Clearly the guy makes a difference. He’ll have his work cut out for him against the Bulls though as he’s matched up with the ever-improving Derrick Rose.

Rose, whose newfound confidence has him leading the Eastern Conference in scoring with 25.6 points per game (third-best in the league), got the best of the Suns in Phoenix last season, going off for 32 points and five assists. In fact, with Rose running the point, the Bulls are 3-1 against the Suns.

In that four-game set, the Suns have lost both matchups in US Airways Center. The Bulls’ last loss in the Valley came on Nov. 15, 2007, more than three years ago.

The revamped Bulls are deeper and more dangerous from the perimeter than they were the past few seasons, which creates challenges of both stamina and defense for the Suns (when isn’t defense an issue for the Suns? Practice?). If the second unit can stop the Bulls from getting any separation and the Suns can make up for rebounding deficiencies on offense, the purple and orange may just be looking at a tw0-game winning streak.

Tags: Chicago Bulls Phoenix Suns Suns Preview

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