Phoenix Suns Preview: Bullfighting

Jan 30, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe dives with the basketball against Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler (21) in the second half at US Airways Center. The Suns won 99-93. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 30, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe dives with the basketball against Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler (21) in the second half at US Airways Center. The Suns won 99-93. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports /

The Phoenix Suns (6-4) will round out this four-game home stand with a nationally televised throw down with the Chicago Bulls (7-3) on ESPN.

Phoenix has been playing well lately, and whether you attribute it to poor competition or not, the Suns deserve some recognition for taking care of business on the floor lately.

Over their last three games, Phoenix has shot 48.5% from the field and 42.9% from beyond the arc, good for second and fourth in the league in each category.

In those three games, Phoenix has also achieved a net rating of 18.6, good for the top spot in the league over that span.

Needless to say, the Suns have been playing their best basketball of the season over the course of this last home stand. When they face the Bulls at Talking Stalking on Wednesday night, Phoenix will look to prove they can sustain this phenomenal  level of play against high-quality opponents.

We’re Going Streaking

 Both squads come into this one hot, each riding three-game winning streaks.

Neither team faced overly challenging opponents during their respective spurts. Phoenix was tasked with beating a deformed shell of the Los Angeles Clippers, along with the rebuilding Nuggets and Lakers, while Chicago’s path to the valley included wins over the 76ers and Hornets.

The Bulls ran into a bit of trouble in their last game against Indiana, scrapping their way to a 96-95 win that concluded with Jimmy Butler blocking a Paul George fadeaway jumper as time expired.

The Suns didn’t see that same type of heart-pounding finish in their 120-101 victory over the Lakers on Monday, but the game was definitely closer than the final score says.

After three quarters, Phoenix led by just five in what was a surprisingly close affair, but ran away with it in the final period, outscoring Los Angeles by 14 to seal the victory.

However, LA was without ageless superstar Kobe Bryant, who was handcuffed to the bench after being given the night off by super-villain/coach Byron Scott. And if you beat the Lakers without Kobe, does it really count?

Teenage Dream

 Remember that Katy Perry song, “Teenage Dream”? (Still can’t believe that was released five whole years ago.)

That’s what I’ve been hearing in my head while watching this Suns backcourt these past few nights.

I think Lakers guard, Lou Williams, put it best after facing the dynamic duo on Monday.

"“They feed off each other,” Williams said. “One night Eric Bledsoe can be the high guy then the next night it’s Brandon Knight. It’s tough to guard guys when they have it going like this.”"

The Knight-Bledsoe combo has been on fire as of late, shouldering much of the offensive load for Phoenix, and performing at a higher level than I think most Suns fans could’ve hoped for.

Over their last three outings, E-Bled and Knight have averaged just over 51 points per game, and have the Suns starting lineup, (including themselves, PJ, Kieff, and Tyson), scoring the seventh most points per game in the league as a unit.

Knight is coming off his best game of the young season after recording a triple-double in the win over Los Angeles. During which, he scored 30 points, grabbed 10 boards, and dished out 15 assists, leading the team in every category.

It’ll be interesting to see how he handles being matched up with a marquee stopper like Jimmy Butler for most of the night after facing some lackluster defensive competition in three-straight games in the forms of Austin Rivers, Gary Harris, and Lou Williams.

If there’s a backcourt that can interrupt the groove that Knight and Bledsoe are in, it’s Chicago’s. Butler’s DefRtg is sitting at 95.5, while Rose’s is hovering just a smidge over 98, making the two one of the best defensive guard pairings in the league.

“Oh No”-ah

 It’s been a strange year for the Bulls’ star center Jokim Noah.

The two-time All-Star was moved from the starting lineup to a reserve role this offseason, a change that he has embraced, providing energy and a defensive presence off the pine.

His scoring output this season, 3.1 points per game, has dipped well below his career average of 9.7. But he has been able to keep up with his production on the glass, grabbing 8.2 boards per night.

If Noah was starting, Phoenix’s main big man, Tyson Chandler, could very easily handle him. But by coming off the bench, Noah creates a favorable matchup for himself with the Suns’ backup center, Alex Len.

I’m not worried about Noah going off on a big scoring tangent against Len, dropping tornado jumpers left and right. But the battle for rebounds could be difficult for Len if he’s forced to gain position down low on a savvy guy like Noah.

It could also be tough for Len to score the ball with Noah on him, possibly erasing Phoenix’s only legitimate inside scorer off the bench.

While the battle of the backups should be intriguing, Chicago’s starter at the center position could also cause problems for the Suns throughout this one.

Pau Gasol is deadly 15-19 ft. from the rim, and has shot 48.9% on 47 attempts from that distance this season.

The reason that could be problematic for Phoenix is because it forces Tyson Chandler to drift away from the basket, eliminating his rim-protecting ability. With Chandler out of the paint while guarding Gasol, Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler will be free to attack the rim with no fear of being block-jected by PaPa Tyson upon entry to the interior.

If Gasol gets going early, knocking down a couple of those 15 ft. jumpers right off the bat, it will be on Phoenix’s guards to lock it down on the perimeter to stop the opposition from making a beeline straight to the cup.