[Thanks to marionette for today's game preview.
No update on Rose Rose not participating in shootaround, per KC. But thanks to the commenters, a cryptic tweet from Rip suggesting he may play. I'm at the UC tonight, so selfishly I kinda hope everyone plays. Game thread up at 7:08. -ed.]
Tuesday. January 17, 2012 - 19:00 CST. My Suns visit my Bulls for their sole confrontation of this schedule screwy, truncated marathon, mother of an nba season. For me personally, these propitious polemics are highly prospected, possessing a precious poignancy perhaps paralleling, or possibly akin to, the cultured fine art paramour's passion for the Puccini. Or something like that.
What's that you say? All this alliteration and none of Grant Hill (aka, Mr Sig), one-time MVP Derrick Rose, and two-time MVP Steve Nash???
It is possible, there could be a star washout. Nash and Hill sat out Friday the 13th's Suns debacle against the visiting Nets, but returned from their sore and bruised right quadriceps, respectively, (apparently it's "sore" if you're 39 and "bruised" if 3 weeks shy of 38) to do battle with the Despicable Spurs on Sunday night. Nash had a 20 and 10 game, but no matter. The Suns lost their 4th straight and put on a 4th straight display of horrid defense, with Nash noticeably pained by some physical issue in the game's final moments. Could be a recurrence, but... I'm guessing Nash and Hill will play like I'm guessing there's a bona fide difference between "sprained toe" and "turf toe".
Before the bad streak, the Suns actually possessed a top defense through the initial 8, allowing opponents just 91.5 points per game. (The bad streak = 103 pts.) Elston Turner is newly on board this year as Defensive Assistant Coach, and it looked like he had made some progress, specifically in reaching Hakim Warrick, who early on seemed a more focused player at both ends, and a now-healthy Robin Lopez, who was effective while starter Marcin Gortat worked through early games with a splint on his hand.
- But Lopez' minutes have been cut way back, and he's not learned yet how to be an effective blend of kindred souls Noah and Varajo from off the bench. Don't anticipate him factoring in tonight. And while Warrick is capable in the paint off of Nash, it rarely happens against good interior defense.
- Head Coach Alvin Gentry still makes the D'Antoni choice of offense over defense. To wit: Shannon Brown plays 22min and shoots .364/.250. Markieff Morris is a top rookie, has played exactly the same total mins as Brown, shoots .500/.516(!), and yet Channing Frye is in at the end most often. Frye is up to .402/.326 after a rough 20% start, though. The Nash System requires 3pt perimeter shooters, even if they can't shoot, apparently.
- Younger than the oldest player in the NBA - Kurt Thomas - by merely one day, my Signature Man has looked it. Maybe Hill - and Nash - have been challenged most in the effort to get their bodies ready given the lockout shortened "preseason". He had some minor knee work done this off season, which was a surprise, I think, to all his free agency suitors. I won't repeat Grant Hill's embarrassing numbers after 11 games, but I will change my sig.
- Speaking of old vets and health, Michael Redd was picked up after the Suns had terrible perimeter shooting performances their first few games. He's seriously injured the same knee twice, and played just 700 NBA minutes since 2008. Made his first 2 Suns 3pt shots, and has gone 1-8 since. Despite the legendary Suns Training Staff, he still has a way to go, you'll see.
- Marcin Gortat and Markieff Morris are a very promising pair at the power positions, as you'll see as well. Jared Dudley is awesome, in his own "NBA's most athletic hands" way. If only the ownership and GM didn't believe "teams are best built through free agency" Suns fans might not have to wait until Sarver sells the team for things to begin looking up again.
- The Suns were 4-4 before the 4 game losing streak. Tonight's game in Chicago is the second of a five game trip, with NY, BOS, and DAL to follow. Considering the down trend, some Phoenix fans are wondering if Nash trade thoughts will finally enter the Organizational Minds at (potentially) 4-12. They finally get their first two days in a row off this season Saturday and Sunday, before the trip ends in Big D on Monday, while the Bulls get their second stint of two days off after tonight, before the game in Cleveland on Friday.
Alright-y then, let's start with #1. It's risky making predictions regarding potential injury DNPs like I did with Hill and Nash, the teams rarely give out status in much advance, and one merely looks foolish trying (your dear author's top concern, obviously, given the tone of this tome). But does anyone really expect Derrick to suit up tonight? Disappointment if he does (or doesn't)? Differences between sprained toe and turf toe? Derrick Rose's PER thus far is .1 higher than last year's MVP season, and the Suns chances will be very slim if he plays tonight, where the Bulls +15 pt differential at United Center leads the Association, I do believe.
The Suns lack the athletic bigs that often bother Boozer. But Gortat is skilled enough in the pick and roll with Nash to do major damage inside. One might expect Noah will check him, but not with Frye starting. And Morris has been their best 3pt shot early, taking only very good looks. Noah needs to refrain from wandering too far when helping to recover on the perimeter against them. In any case, the pick and roll with Nash is still a defensive test for any team.
Ronnie Price isn't exactly turnover prone, but he isn't exactly a point guard either. Look for the Bulls bench to do their usual damage against the Suns' 1 year contract crew of Price, Shannon Brown, and Sebastian Telfair (tho' he won't play unless Nash sits). (Where have you gone, Goran Dragic? O, where art thou, Zabian Dowdell?)
Deng has done well against his Duke idol Grant Hill in recent years. Let's hope that continues to the degree that Thibs gives Jimmy Butler a ton of 4th Q burn! (As if!!!)
The Cavs shot 10-19 and the Nets shot 15-32 from distance in Phoenix against the Suns last week. Do you read me Kyle Korver?
Even with a good defensive lineup like Nash - Dudley - Hill - Morris - Gortat, the Suns aren't a strong defensive team in transition, especially lately. You can often punish them on the boards too. If the Bulls sit Derrick again, they'll need to take advantage in these areas of the game, areas the Suns are weaker than the Grizzlies. Gear up the track game, the regular season prime objective, the easy basket.
The Bulls lost 5 games at home last year (I think) - Knicks, Magic, Clippers, Bobcats and 76ers - and none came after a previous loss. I expect them to be very focused. As for the Suns, like any game on this trip, it's an opportunity to turn their rapidly sinking fortunes around, to make something of a season experts and fans are predicting bleak results from, an especially opportune chance faced with not facing Rose.
I don't know if there's much irony in Opera, even Puccini. But it's funny how the attitudes of Suns fans and Bulls fans have reversed 180º from 4 or 5 or 6 years ago regarding the regular season. Now it's Bulls fans waiting it out (patiently, or otherwise) for a playoff rematch payoff with their nemesis, their mountain to climb, while Suns fans nail-bite in hope of an 8th seed. But this is basically the same Suns team that recovered (somewhat well) from a poor start last year (thanks to the JRich for Gortat trade) to finish just under .500 and... just out of the playoffs - except for lost deadweight like Vince Carter, and added rookie Markieff - so...
Don't take them lightly, just take them out.
P.S.: Although I won't, you should check out Bright Side of the Sun.