The last time Phoenix faced an Eastern Conference team on the road, they were in South Beach.
Chicago figures to be slightly colder, if not any more so than the other stops on their five-game road trip, which includes Minnesota, Detroit and New York.
The Bulls are the first order of business however. They’re coming off a bit of business themselves, having dealt All-Star forward Luol Deng to Cleveland in exchange for a handful of draft picks and center Andrew Bynum.
Chicago’s likely short-handed status tonight is one of several things to keep an eye on in tonight’s game.
Will Suns Be Travel-Worn?
It’s only the first night of the road trip, but it must already feel like an eternity to Phoenix.
The Suns’ flight was delayed by a whopping 17 hours due to weather conditions. They’ve already been forced to cancel their usual game-day morning shootaround, and the onus will be on them to avoid the Windy City cold (high of 8 degrees, today) as much as possible.
Cold can be managed/avoided easily enough, but can they shrug off the mentally draining plane waits, combined with the breakup of their day-to-day routine?
Who Scores for Chicago?
Granted, Luol Deng had already missed nine of the previous 15 games with a sore Achilles, but Chicago must now adjust permanently without its multi-talented small forward.
That could further liberate some of the younger talent on this team, including third-year guard Jimmy Butler (12.2 ppg). Still, with Deng gone and Derrick Rose (knee) out for the season, Chicago will be hurting for points.
Have Suns Learned Rebounding Lesson?
Phoenix was pummeled on the boards by Memphis last Thursday, but held even with the Bucks two nights later.
Chicago poses a much bigger challenge than Milwaukee. Carlos Boozer is a game-time decision due to a knee injury, but Joakhim Noah (10.9 ppg, 10.1 rpg) and Taj Gibson (15.5 ppg, 11.0 rpg as a starter) are among the best rebounding and hustle big men in the league.
Phoenix Head Coach Jeff Hornacek wanted to see his frontcourt show more veteran know-how when establishing rebounding position. Noah and Gibson will make such tactics necessary.
How Much Will Dragic Have to Do?
This is big not only for tonight, but for the rest of the road trip.
Eric Bledsoe is expected to miss the majority, if not all, of this five-game road trip. Dragic has proven more than capable of shouldering the load on offense, scoring 21.4 points per game in the eight contests Bledsoe has missed this season.
Hornacek, however, is intent on not overplaying Dragic during a stretch that squeezes five games in a seven-day span. Whether it’s the starters blowing the game open early or Ish Smith and the bench more than holding their own, Phoenix will need to keep their floor leader from wearing down on the first night on the road.
Will Running Game Bust Loose?
Chicago prides itself on grinding out wins with rebounding and defense, holding teams to just 92.2 points per contest (second-best in the NBA).
Hornacek always wants his team to run, but sees more need than preference in doing so tonight against the Bulls.
“If we let it get into a half-court game, we’ll probably lose,” Hornacek said.
The Suns Head Coach may be using pessimism to make a point, but there’s no doubting Phoenix – still number one in the league in fast break points – is simply better when they turn games into a track meet.