Phoenix is on fire. Winners of five straight and eight of their last 10, the Suns have unleashed themselves on offense behind a bevy of big performances, most notably from newly dubbed Player of the Week Goran Dragic.
The Bulls pride themselves on dousing such optimism, using a combination of grit and defense that wills them to wins despite the absence of All-Stars Derrick Rose (knee) and Luol Deng (traded).
The Suns want to avoid that happening again after losing at Chicago last month. Here are five things that will decide which outcome prevails.
Dragic vs. Hinrich
Dragic’s Player of the Week award was came courtesy of the following averages over a four-game span: 29.2 minutes, 26.8 points, 6.0 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 63.9 percent shooting, 69.2 percent from three.
The surge came the same week the sixth-year guard found out he was not among the players named reserves for the 2014 NBA All-Star Game.
As hot as Dragic has been, he’ll be challenged by Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich, whose physical brand of perimeter defense often throws opposing guards off their respective games. Dragic’s early effectiveness in this matchup will be key to Phoenix getting off on the right foot.
Suns Offense vs. Bulls Defense
Over the past 10 games, Phoenix has led the league in scoring at a 112-points-per-game clip.
The Bulls’ single mission in life is to take any high-scoring team and crush their free-wheeling souls. Chicago is second-best in the league in points allowed (92.7) and holds opponents to just over 43 percent shooting.
The Suns couldn’t assert themselves in Chicago last month, scoring just 87 points in a losing effort. They’ll need more than that. How much more depends on…
The Bulls Offense
Chicago is nearly as woeful on offense as they are impressive on defense. The Bulls put up just 92.5 points per contest, a result of the injuries and trades that have depleted their source of scoring.
Mid-season pickup D.J. Augustin (14.0 ppg, 6.0 apg) has been a pleasant surprise for Chicago, but they’re now mostly a grit-and-grind team that relies on garbage points and enough players chipping in to give them enough offense to win.
Suns Bigs vs. Noah
Joakim Noah has been on an absolute tear in 2014, pulling down a remarkable 14.3 rebounds per game since the New Year.
The Suns were out-rebounded 50-41 in their last meeting, as not a single Phoenix player logged more than seven boards in that contest.
The combined efforts of Miles Plumlee, Channing Frye, and the rest of the Suns’ big men will be needed to fend off Chicago’s glass-eating trio of Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson.
While brother Markieff has been hot since mid-January, Marcus is starting to make some noise as well. The third-year forward is averaging nearly nearly 16 points per game off the bench over the last three games, shooting an impressive 54.8 percent from the field in that span.
The younger Morris twin provides perimeter insurance in the event Gerald Green and/or Channing Frye aren’t hitting from the outside. Against the interior defense of the Bulls, he could provide yet another game-swinging performance.