The Chicago Bulls defeated the Phoenix Suns 116-101 on Monday night. The victory snapped a five-game losing streak and helped the Bulls reach the 20-win plateau for the season. Chicago had to pull off the win without Otto Porter Jr., who was sidelined with a strained right rotator cuff. However, they combatted a Phoenix squad that was without four of their own rotation players due to injury.
The Bulls took an 8-6 lead with 8:23 left in the first quarter and never looked back, leading by as many as 19 points. Suns draftee Robin Lopez led Chicago with 24 points on 11-of-14 shooting and seven rebounds (including five offensive boards). Former Sun Shaquille Harrison got a spot start and finished with six points, four steals, and three rebounds.
Zach LaVine (eight rebounds, seven assists) and Lauri Markkanen (nine rebounds, two blocks) added 17 points each to the cause. Kris Dunn celebrated his 25th birthday by scoring 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting and dishing out three assists. Even Cristiano Felicio had 10 points and eight rebonds.
The Bulls successfully avoided the second half collapses that had become customary in their previous five games. Phoenix scored 30 points in the third quarter, but Chicago matched that point total. They then outscored the Suns 30-28 in the fourth quarter to secure the win.
Chicago’s victory puts a bow on 1-2 road trip. They started 0-2 after rough losses at the Los Angeles Clippers and Sacramento Kings. However, they managed to avoid the sweep on Monday night in The Valley.
Each game took on a different profile, driving home each team’s strengths and weaknesses that had been established over the course of the grueling season. For instance, Chicago was able to exploit Phoenix’s rim protection issues. The Suns concede the most paint points per game in the NBA (53.1). Thus, Chicago outscored them 76-56 in the key. It also allowed the Bulls to out-rebound the Suns 49-38.
Conversely, the Kings average the sixth-most paint points in the league (53.7). This allowed them to blitz a sluggish Bulls defense for 80 points in the key en route to a 129-102 drubbing. Sacramento led by as many as 37 points.
In LA, the bench determined the 128-121 outcome. The Bulls starters racked up an impressive 92 points to the Clippers’ 75. However, the Clippers bench outscored Chicago’s 53-29. Wayne Selden Jr. paced the Bulls’ Bench Mob with 14 points, but the other five members combined for just 15. Meanwhile, the Clip’s bench was led by Montrezl Harrell‘s 26 points and Lou Williams‘ 21.
Turnovers also played a role in the first two games. The Bulls out-fumbled their opponents 16-7 in Los Angeles and 19-10 in Sacramento. They committed only 13 turnovers against Phoenix, though that was still one more than they forced.
Also, the Bulls and their opponents seemed to match each other’s energy along the 3-point stripe. Chicago shot 52.4 percent from beyond the arc against the Clippers. The Clippers responded by shooting 50.0 percent. The Bulls shot 38.5 percent against Sacramento, while the Kings shot 34.8. In Phoenix, they went an abysmal 25.0 percent from 3, but the Suns also shot 26.9 percent.
Zach LaVine was the leading scorer on this three-game swing. He averaged 22.0 points, 6.0 rebonds, 5.7 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. He also shot 50.0 percent from 3-point range on 4.7 attempts per game. Robin Lopez was right behind him, averaging 18.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per game.
Lopez is having the best offensive stretch of his career, dropping 24 points against Phoenix and 22 at the Clippers. He shot 76.9 percent from the field in those two games. His 8-point performance at Sacramento is the only thing keeping his road trip average down.
The Phoenix win also wraps up the Bulls’ Western Conference road schedule for 2018-19. They finish 3-12 in Western arenas with an -11.9 net rating. In addition to Monday night, the Bulls also won on Feb. 27 at the Memphis Grizzlies and Dec. 15 at the San Antonio Spurs. Their record is an improvement from last year’s 2-13 record and -15.4 net rating.
The Bulls pulled off a few wins, but it was mostly an unforgiving road. Chicago lost Kris Dunn for 24 games after their first Western road game of the season, a loss to the Dallas Mavericks. They also endured a brutal 0-5 West Coast road trip in January. Chicago lost by 18.8 points per game on the trip, notably giving up 146 points to the Golden State Warriors and 135 to the Denver Nuggets. Wendell Carter Jr. was also ruled out for the season on this trip, suffering a thumb injury against the Los Angeles Lakers.
But now, with 10 games remaining, the Chicago Bulls can put those lowlights behind them. We’ll see if the team and its young core can compete in Western Conference gyms next year.