Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade returned to the lineup, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Bulls from turning in a lifeless performance in an ugly 115-97 loss to the Phoenix Suns. While the lack of energy is understandable at the tail end of a long road trip, Chicago’s talent advantage was so stark tonight that it’s hard not to be disappointed with the loss. The Suns stormed out to a 13 point lead to end the first half and never let up to secure their 17th victory in easy fashion.
Phoenix’s talented young backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker led a fast-paced attack that the Bulls just couldn’t keep up with. They combined for 50 points and were never really slowed down by the Bulls revolving door of replacement-level guards. Sloppy turnovers and poor transition defense allowed the shorthanded Suns—down Alex Len, Dragan Bender, and Tyson Chandler after halftime—to keep every Bulls’ run at bay after claiming the early lead.
The 20-year-old Booker was particularly impressive, tallying 27 points on 10/19 shooting. He has one of the purest and prettiest shooting strokes you’ll see, exhibiting a real feel for the flow of NBA offense; he added four assists and three offensive boards. Booker has scored at least 20 points in 18 of the last 19 games, an impressive feat for such a young player.
Eric Bledsoe is still Phoenix’s best player, and he showed it tonight with 23 points and eight assists. Bledsoe’s aggressive rim attacks combined nicely with his solid pull-up jumper game. He’s been excellent this season and could be a dark horse trade candidate at the deadline with Phoenix seemingly quite far away from contending.
Chicago’s veteran backcourt couldn’t quite match up. Butler looked out of rhythm returning from a bruised heel, shooting just 6/16 on an uncharacteristically quiet night. The young Suns blocked Jimmy’s attempts at the rim several times, a rare site in a typical Bulls game. He finished with 20 points, six assists, and three rebounds; hopefully he just needed a game to shake out the rust.
Dwyane Wade was solid on the offensive end but couldn’t keep up with Phoenix’s springy guards. He notched 18 points, three assists, and six rebounds; nonetheless, Wade’s defensive issues are a legitimate problem in many matchups. The Bulls desperately need Wade’s offensive contributions, but there’s good reason he’s no longer an All-Star.
The Bulls simply did not bring the necessary energy and effort to win tonight. Phoenix stepped on the gas from the start and ultimately played Chicago off the floor. It’s hard to get too worked up over a low-energy loss at the end of a West Coast road trip, but the Bulls have a very slim margin for error.
They’re now 26-28, fortunate that the Eastern Conference is weak enough that they remain the seventh seed. The fans aren’t fooled, though, and hopefully the front office isn’t either (heh). This team is going nowhere fast—an amazing collection of mediocrity. With the trade deadline fast approaching, hopefully games like these will convince GarPax to start heavily considering some new directions.