Preview: Phoenix Suns (37-39) at Chicago Bulls (56-20)

Chicago Bulls 97, Phoenix Suns 94



In the aftermath of the Suns’ 123-115 double overtime collapse against the Bulls all the way back on Nov. 24, head coach Alvin Gentry remarked that at the end of the season we will look back and see no shame in losing to Chicago since many other teams will lose to the Bulls as well. The issue in this one encompassed losing a game Phoenix had all but won.

Indeed Gentry was dead on with both points, as the Bulls stayed above water despite losing Carlos Boozer early in the season and then Joakim Noah later to morph into the Beast of the East with a healthy roster and an MVP candidate in Derrick Rose.

There is indeed nothing wrong with losing to a team leading the Eastern Conference by 2 1/2 games over Miami entering play Tuesday, the problem with that one involved blowing the fourth-biggest lead in franchise history (23 points) against a tired squad that had played the night before.

It’s funny that losing home games against teams playing on the second game of a back-to-back became a season-long problem that reared its head in this one as this contest also foreshadowed the Suns’ propensity to blow leads, as the Bulls won despite never leading in regulation.

When the Suns look back on all their missed opportunities this season they will certainly curse the three defeats to the Kings in which they played putrid fourth quarters as well as the disaster in Detroit and the blown game against Memphis, but the double-overtime Bulls game belongs squarely on that list as well despite Chicago’s prowess.

It’s funny that just about a year ago the Suns visited United Center and clinched a playoff berth on the Bulls’ home floor as they won their eighth straight contest in a winning streak that reached 10 games.

This time around the Suns will be playing their first game after being mathematically eliminated aiming for a better effort than what they put forth Sunday in San Antonio, when the Spurs reeled off a 44-14 run during a 12-minute stretch of the first half and cruised to an easy victory.

Only those Spurs possess a better record than the Bulls, who can thank the league’s best defense for their domination of the Eastern Conference. Chicago yields just 97.4 points per 100 possessions, which means things could get Butler ugly (OK, maybe not thaaat bad) if Steve Nash is a late scratch once again (he is expected to play although he’s not 100 percent).

The Bulls, who like the Spurs have lost only five home games all season, really need this game as they strive to earn home-court advantage throughout the East playoffs whereas the Suns just hope to make things more competitive than they were Sunday in the Alamo City.

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Noah and Boozer are both expected to suit up against the Suns. Both players participated in today’s shootaround and Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said Noah would play barring a setback after missing the past three games with a right ankle injury. Boozer did not practice Monday due to an illness.

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