Game Preview #41 - Chicago Bulls vs. Phoenix Suns

[Thanks to marionette for today's game preview (Sign! Up!). The first paragraph delights me. -ed.]

I swore I wouldn't do this, but then I snarked rosegirldotcom badly, and on MLK Day of all days... HE WAS A MAN OF PEACE!!!! The 7 recs received only made me feel worse, so I made a vow to feel better. yfBB says this should not be a chore, but I hope making it a penance is okay.

If that's not enough, then self-flagellation is the next step, right? Or one could simply watch The Bulls tonight instead... PPAH-DRUMPTK! But seriously Ladies and Germs, I've had this one calendar-marked since January 31, 2009, the last time our beloved Bullies visited town (and won!).

Much has changed for the Phoenix franchise since then (as with the Bulls... Here is last year's box). Alvin Gentry replaced Terry Porter as coach and reinstated SSOL. But he's been freer with minutes for the reserves than D'Antoni, and that's benefitted the Suns greatly too. Though they missed the playoffs in an incredibly competitive Western Conference last year, most likely due to Amar'e Stoudemire's detached retina, Gentry was signed long term. They rolled off to a surprising 12-3 start, beating "our rival" Celtics in Beantown, and with KG!!! Lowly Goran Dragic, picking up on the confidence Gentry showed in him last year, now looks like an exciting point guard prospect with a strong defensive upside. Gentry also placed faith in "Junkyard Dog" Jared Dudley, and he vowed to return this year as a legit threat from three, leading the league in 3pt%. Trailblazer castoff Channing Frye was thrust(!) into the starting role with a pre-season injury to 2nd year center Robin Lopez, and responded by leading the league in made 3-pointers for a time. He was named most improved player for the first half season by The Sporting News.

Yet he Bulls are currently at number 8 in the East, while the Suns hold the 6 spot, with a mere game's worth safety margin in a wicked West. If fact there are so many parallels between these organizations, their situations a year ago and now it makes a fan's head spin. Example: The local sports radio clowns have a segment they call "Amar'e-can Idol", where they judge each of Stoudemire's game performances after the fact for "max contract worthiness". (And naturally, he's mostly deemed unworthy.) Mind you, this is on the very station that has covered the 82 game season for 40 years! Absolutely unimaginable under Colangelo. Are the Suns preparing to let Amar'e walk for nothing and prepping it's fanbase with propaganda? Sound familiar?

But Marionette, you said the bench was great, and Nash and Amar'e are all-stars again, right? So what happened?  

Consensus seemed to be that opponents decided that switching every Nash pick and roll was their best option. Just like in years past, force Nash to work against Amar'e's man and become a scorer. There are grumblings that he's slowed to where he doesn't beat the big on the switch. But it looks like he does the same thing he always did, usually shooting a jumper over him. Once again, he's an efficiency machine with well over 50% FG, 40% 3PT, 90%FT. But he is still reluctant in this role. For example, if the Suns have a 20 point lead he's absolutely looking to set up the others 100%. If they go cold, the door's been left open, so to speak. And against the better defenses, turnovers let the opponents back. Nash's ratio just isn't as great as it had been back when teams played him straight up. Do whatever you can to put the machine out of rhythm.

And Gentry's success with the 2nd unit had been Phil Jackson-like. But it's the NBA and teams get scouted, probably more effectively than ever. I think that fact and the length of the season combined to become a wall they've hit. They're young players that hadn't performed at that level of effectiveness before, so they've dropped back down to earth. But they still have 3 of the top 10, and 5 of the top 45 NBA 3 pt shooters, a subject of envy for the Bulls. Recently, Robin Lopez and Leandro Barbosa have replaced Frye and Jason Richardson in the starting lineup. Lopez has been in double figures the last 4 games in a row. He's been impressive, but remember the beginning of last year when an out of condition Joakim Noah had all the appearance of a rich man's Robin Lopez. NBA career fortune is fickle and dependent upon much circumstance. Playing with Nash has this kid looking legit, but it also was the case for a time with Steven Hunter (bad hands, weak rebounding) in '04-'05.

That matchup with Noah will be something to watch for, as well as Vinny's choice on the high pick and roll. In stark contrast to last year, the Bulls rarely switch them. Watch out also for a zone defense from Gentry. That would seem to be a smart tactic against the jump shot happy Bulls and their ultra quick point. The Suns are fond of using it.

Of course, the Bulls biggest issue is that stomach flu bug. Even with a full roster of Bulls suited up, the Suns are at home where their young bench is comfortable. That makes it 10 men versus 8. Or less.

(well, the formatting of simple italics and bold script has been a challenge....i give up. and GO TYRUS!)

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