This looked like a schedule loss for the Bulls before the ball was ever tipped. A game in Phoenix is just about the worst matchup possible for a tired Chicago team playing its third game in four nights on the West Coast. If the Suns could get the game going up and down, it sure seemed like the Bulls would have a tough time keeping up. That's more a less what happened in a 99-93 Suns win on Friday night at U.S. Airways Center.
Give the Bulls credit for hanging tough. An Aaron Brooks three-pointer 1:19 left made it a four-point game; a layup by Brooks with 30 seconds left made it a two-point game. That's when Eric Bledsoe drove at Rose and hit a runner in the paint to give Phoenix the dagger it was looking for. It's the Bulls' ninth loss in the last 14 games. Chicago is now only 1.5 games ahead of the Cavs for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.
I don't want to get too pessimistic here, because there were positives. Joakim Noah played his third quality game in a row (nine points, 10 rebounds, five assists in 33 minutes), Butler was a tank for the second night in a row (22 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals) and the Bulls were able to get to the foul line 10 more times than Phoenix did. The problem was that Chicago couldn't hit its free throws (63 percent on the game), its threes (4-of-18) or its layups.
The Suns came out on fire in the first half and took 55-42 lead into the break. The Bulls made it a game in the third by finally denying Phoenix transition opportunities, but they couldn't keep the game in the half court in the fourth quarter.
The Suns guard were having their way with the Bulls backcourt all night. Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe combined for 44 points. The Morris twins were great too, especially in the second half. Each scored 12 in the win.
Rose was decent (23 points on 23 shots, three assists, three turnovers), but his inability to hit threes lately is starting to kill his effectiveness. After a hot start to this month from behind the arc, Rose is now five for his last 32 from deep, with four of those threes coming in one game against Golden State. He looked good going to rim, so let's hope Rose continues to attack as the playoffs draw closer.
The Bulls have three more games before this road trip is over, starting with a game in Houston on Wednesday. It's nice the Bulls get a few days off here, and the schedule in February is pretty manageable. Really, they need Mike Dunleavy Jr. back. It's so hard to win without even a single reliable three-point shooter on the floor for most of the night, and the Bulls' 7-8 record without Dunleavy hammers that point home.
The bigger, more long-term concern might be playoff seeding. The Bulls don't want to be in that four-five matchup, or there's a very real chance they lose in the first round. Obviously there's still a lot of time for that, both for the seeding to work itself out and for the Bulls to fix what's ailing them. It is starting to get a bit disconcerting, though. This All-Star break can't come soon enough.