Bulls 122, Suns 111 – Another dead end


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.