I've been saying that there really isn't a "playing to their competition" thing with the Bulls this year. That this is just the ups and downs of a team that isn't good enough to generate consistency, regardless of the opponent. But the evidence is there over the last group of games, where the Bulls can look spectacular one night against a fellow East also-ran, then fall at home to one of the worst teams in the league the very next night. I guess all teams are guilty of it, maybe even the Knicks and Heat. But there are games the Bulls shouldn't lose and this was one of those.
The Bulls wound up going down 97-81 to the Suns after the game really got away from them in the 2nd half. The Bulls starters began to noticeably tire, the Suns pushed the pace, and Chicago was hit with 4 technicals in the game, one each to Boozer, Deng, Robinson, and Thibodeau. It was a tightly-called game, and that will usually be a disadvantage to the Bulls as they're pretty much always the ones playing the more physical defense.
Even before that point, the Bulls were struggling to keep with Phoenix in the half-court. Goran Gragic's penetration was a real problem, as the Phoenix PG finished with 8 assists and forced Hinrich into early foul trouble. The biggest beneficiary was Luis Scola on the pick/pop who finished with 22 points on 9-15 shooting.
The other big offensive (in more ways than one) story was Michael Beasley. Beasley had a 14 point second quarter, and as usual with him: when the shots go in he looks like a fantastic offensive player. It's likely just the aesthetics of his high lefty release, but he had a series of mid-range moves that looked really fantastic. If those ultimately less-efficient looks don't go in it's an entirely different night for him, and game for the Bulls, but he was rolling tonight in his 20 minutes.
For the Bulls, not much was similarly effective. Rip Hamilton had a good opening stint as the focus of the offense with 8 points and a couple of assists. Boozer had another good double-double line, but it wasn't as effective an all-around game as we've seen over his very good stretch of games lately. By the 2nd half, Boozer was outright shoving people instead of defending, and it was an indicator of a team that just didn't have it to start, the really lost it later. Thibs went to a smaller lineup with a Taj-Deng-Butler frontcourt, and while it did add some more pressure defensively they were done in by some timely 3s by Sebastian Telfair over Nate, part of an over 6-14 night from three by Phoenix. The Bulls didn't hit their first three until the 4th quarter and were 2-11 overall, and that deficiency in their game is especially costly when trying to quickly overcome a deficit like they had Saturday.
The Bulls fell to 10-10 at home this season, but while they've shown to be able to play well against the best on the road this season, they've had some bad losses in their building. It's ultimately the signs of a not-great team, but the record is still good in this Rose-less year.