Suns Pregame Notes: Tempo Key Against Bulls

Feb 4, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler (21) drives the ball against the Phoenix Suns guard Gerald Green (14) in the first half at US Airways Center. The Bulls won 101-92. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 4, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler (21) drives the ball against the Phoenix Suns guard Gerald Green (14) in the first half at US Airways Center. The Bulls won 101-92. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports /

For the second straight game, the Phoenix Suns will be facing an opponent with a strong frontcourt that’s playing through tired legs. And for the second straight game, the Suns will need to push the tempo to close out the home stand strong.

After falling to the Los Angeles Lakers in double overtime last night, the Chicago Bulls come into US Airways Center needing a win on the second night of a back-to-back. Starters Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah all played at least 42 minutes in the losing effort.

According to the Arizona Republic‘s Paul Coro, the Bulls arrived at their hotel in Phoenix at 3:30 a.m. this morning. Against a team averaging the second-most fast break points in the league this season, Chicago could have its hands full if they come out flat-footed.

Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek isn’t taking anything for granted though.

“You would think that on paper maybe they’re a little tired, but they’re a team of veteran guys who can slow the ball down — even though this year I think they’ve picked it up some — offensively, they still can go into their slow-down game and get rested that way,” he said. “They’re probably a little upset they lost last night so they’ll probably come out and give a great effort.”

The Suns are coming in on one day of rest and are 15-6 since first utilizing the starting lineup of Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris and Alex Len. Phoenix is 5-2 so far during their franchise-record eight-game home stand and has won eight of its last 10 games at US Airways Center.

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Chicago’s built a reputation of having a tough, gritty defense over the years, but this season the Bulls have been pushed around a little bit more than usual on that end. The Suns play at the second fastest pace in the league. They also average the second most points per game (107.3) and the seventh most points per 100 possessions (109.5) in the NBA.

Meanwhile, the Bulls have fallen out of the top 10 in defensive rating for the first time since 2009-10. Last season, they were the league’s second ranked defense.

“We can’t pick and choose when we’re going to play defense, we can’t pick and choose when we’re going to play offense,” Thibodeau said. “When you look at last night’s game, they had the ability to score big points all year long no matter who they had on the floor, so when you go into a game like that, what you can’t do is ease into it and find yourself in a hole and then you’re trying to dig yourself out the rest of the night.”

Thibodeau also said Butler, who was dealing with an illness and banged his knee last night, is okay and will play. Mike Dunleavy is out once again for the Bulls. Last night, Thibodeau started Nikola Mirotic at small forward before switching to Tony Snell to start the second half.

Against a team that likes to throw some unorthodox lineups on the floor, the Bulls may have to adjust as well. Thibodeau cited P.J. Tucker, Phoenix’s unsung fourth quarter hero, as one player his small forwards will need to be ready for.

“Tucker’s probably one of the most underrated players in the league,” he said. “He’s just hard playing, tough, he’s really improved his shooting, but he brings that team a lot of toughness.”

Chicago is 8-8 in the month of January and have had a bit of an up-and-down month. Earlier this week, they beat the team with the best record in the league — the Golden State Warriors — on the road before losing to the lowly Lakers in Los Angeles last night. The Bulls’ last two games have gone to overtime.

However, with the highly vaunted trio of Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson off the bench, the Bulls have a big advantage inside. The Suns give up 46.4 points in the paint per game, the second worst mark in the NBA. They also give up 12 offensive rebounds per game, the third worst mark in the league.

With the Bulls in the bottom third of the league in pace, Chicago will want to slow it down on the second night of a back-to-back and exploit the Suns’ disadvantage inside.

The Suns beat their last opponent on the second night of a back-to-back — the Washington Wizards — Wednesday night.

“It’s going to be a tough game, it’s going to be physical,” Hornacek said. “We’re going to have to battle them on the boards and get out and run and do what we do.”

More notes:

  • Isaiah Thomas has been playing lights out recently, averaging 23.2 points in his last five games while shooting 51.4 percent from the field, 51.4 percent from three-point range and 92 percent from the free throw line. If he scores at least 18 points again tonight, he will become the first Suns reserve to score that many in six straight games since Danny Manning did it in 1994-95.
  • The Suns are 8-0 on the season when their backcourt trio of Dragic, Bledsoe and Thomas scores at least 15 points each
  • Phoenix is also 4-0 on national television this season. Tonight’s game will be broadcast on ESPN.