Hanging with the Best, the Similar Suns, Wendell's Tough Matchup, and Other Bulls Bullets

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Hanging with the Best, the Similar Suns, Wendell’s Tough Matchup, and Other Bulls Bullets

Chicago Bulls

I don’t normally like to tell people when it’s my birthday, but here we are. I’m just letting you folks know in advance because the girlfriend hooked me up with some of my favorite beverages, so if I happen to be a little more excited than usual during tonight’s Bulls game … you know why.

•   I have good news. Well, er, ESPN’s Kirk Goldsberry has good news …

•   As crazy as it may sound, over the last month, the Bulls have been one of the best teams in basketball. Since January 25th, they have played just above league average on offense (14th) and defense (12th), which is good enough to put them in the same quadrant as teams like the Jazz, 76ers, Bucks, Suns, and Raptors. Now, while we can be happy about this, we should probably consider the schedule. The Bulls played 11 teams with losing records over the stretch documented above. I don’t think that necessarily takes away from the improvement we’ve seen – after all, beating teams you’re “supposed” to beat is a positive step for this organization – but it probably does tell us that they aren’t truly in the mix with their current quadrant partners. They do have a chance to prove they can mimic this success against a tougher schedule, though. After a matchup with the West’s 4th-place Suns tonight, they will play the Raptors and Nuggets to round out the first-half schedule. Then, the 11th-toughest second-half schedule in the league awaits them.

•   Let’s go back to the here and now. The Bulls meeting with the Suns tonight will be their toughest contest since the 76ers. Phoenix is remarkably well-rounded, ranking 8th in offense and 7th in defense this season. Normally, against a team as balanced as this, I’d chalk it up as an L for the Bulls in advance. But with how Chicago has been playing as of late, I think I’ll wait until at least halftime to throw in the towel. In fact, I actually think Chicago matches up decently well with this Suns roster. There is no question the talent level in the Suns’ starting lineup is far more advanced, but I do think Zach LaVine and Coby White have the scoring chops to keep things within striking distance on the offensive end. After all, these are the two teams that rank 5th (Suns) and 6th (Bulls) in effective field-goal percentage. Additionally, I like the bench’s chance to outplay the Suns’ second unit. Phoenix by no means has bad depth, but the Sato and Young duo have been firing on all cylinders recently.

•   The Suns’ ability to actually come up with some stops will likely be the difference-maker tonight, which is exactly why I think this Bulls team needs to use their athleticism to get ahead of the defense. Chicago ranks 3rd in PACE this season, whereas the Suns run a much slower game that puts them at 29th. Phoenix also happens to allow the 10th-most opponent fastbreak points per game. The Bulls don’t score a ton of fastbreak buckets on a nightly basis, but they have the speed to do damage in transition, and I’d love to see them emphasize that tonight.

•   The Bulls will also need another big game from Wendell Carter Jr. Suns center Deandre Ayton hauls in 11.8 rebounds per game, and his offensive rebounding percentage sits in the 83rd percentile. The Bulls third-year big man has been playing far more physical and aggressive on the offensive end since his return to the floor, and he’ll need to do plenty of that tonight to give this team a chance.

•   I still don’t necessarily agree with Kornet getting all these minutes over Gafford, but at least Donovan’s reasoning isn’t just “because I said so.”

•   Are we about to have another team in the playoff hunt??

•   ICYMI: NBA executives believe Thaddeus Young could be a serious difference-maker for contending teams.

•   Love this from Coby.

•   Did you guys see this abomination last night? The Denver Nuggets had a chance to tie the game on a 4-to-1 fastbreak with time expiring, and instead of anyone cutting to the basket, they all stopped at the 3-point line. Even Jamal Murray knows it was an embarrassingly huge mistake.

•   You love to see it!

Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.