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Chicago Bulls vs. Phoenix Suns Preview and thread: an ‘are we actually good’ test

So are the Bulls actually good?

Minnesota Timberwolves v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Chicago Bulls (15-16) vs. Phoenix Suns (20-11)

A sign of the times.

The Bulls escape with a hard-fought 133-126 overtime victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves a couple nights ago, and the sentiment is that the game shouldn’t have been that close.

The vibes around this team now are the best they’ve been in forever. The Bulls are 8-7 in their last 15 games, but have won five of their last six contests. The Bulls even made the ‘quadrant of wow!’ on the latest efficiency landscape.

Most importantly, if the season were to end today the Chicago Bulls would have the seventh-best record in the Eastern Conference qualifying them for the playoffs for the first time since the 2016-2017 season.

There’s a lot of season to play though and every game remaining on the schedule is magnified in importance with only three games separating the fourth seed from the 12th seed. It’d be absolutely nutty if the season ended and the Bulls had the fourth-best record in the conference, but that is actually looking doable right now.

Tonight though, a major checkpoint. Outside of a pretty nice victory against a team that usually beats them (the Indiana Pacers), the Bulls were beating up on some really bad to below average NBA teams during their recent hot stretch.

Meanwhile, the Suns have a top six record in the league by win percentage. Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Chris Paul, and Mikal Bridges are the headliners for the Suns. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the most interesting person on the Suns roster, at least to some Bulls fans.

Cameron freaking Payne is in the midst of a career Renaissance in the desert. The guy who bore the brunt of every joke during his short-lived Chicago Bulls career is killing it with the Suns. He has averaged 7.0 points and 3.7 assists per game, shooting 42.3 percent from deep on nearly three attempts per game, and has averaged 17 minutes of playing time for a really good Western Conference squad.

Honestly this is really cool to see from a guy who was perpetually ridiculed (maybe to the point where it was unfair?) during his stay in Chicago. On the other end of the spectrum, old friend E’Twaun Moore, a guy many Bulls fans wish would have stayed with the team, is now also sharing a backcourt with Payne in Phoenix.

Declaring it right now: the Bulls are officially back if they can beat the Suns tonight.

Injury Report:

Same ol’ story for the Bulls. Now there’s talk that Lauri Markkanen won’t be back until after the All-Star break. And the silence on Otto Porter is deafening.

For the Suns, they have nearly everyone back, but Dario Saric is questionable with an ankle injury after playing two nights ago.

Game Time: 7:00 p.m., NBC Sports Chicago