Bulls' inconsistency at home continues with loss to lowly Suns

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Bulls' inconsistency at home continues with loss to lowly Suns

While the Bulls (20-15) have proved that they are capable of beating some of the league's best teams in a hostile environment, they've also shown that they're equally likely to lose to some of its worst squads on their home court.
That trend continued Saturday night at the United Center, as the Bulls laid an egg in losing to the woeful Phoenix Suns (13-26), 97-81, in an affair that was never in doubt for the visitors after the opening period.
After collectively pledging the previous evening to eliminate their inconsistency--whether it be lackluster efforts at home or playing down to inferior competition--the Bulls' vow didn't show immediate results.
However, against the lowly Suns, they managed to take a slight edge in the early going. Their success came despite Kirk Hinrich picking up two quick fouls, which wasn't necessarily the worst thing in the world, given the potential for infection in the bursa sac of his right elbow--a notion Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau bristled at prior to the contest.
The team's other veteran starting guard, Rip Hamilton (12 points), got off to a quick start, by way of his usual perimeter play, while Joakim Noah's (10 points, 13 rebounds) typical high activity level also buoyed the hosts.
Phoenix kept plugging away, though, and behind crafty power forward Luis Scola (22 points, seven rebounds), the visitors caught up to their hosts--even briefly overtaking them--but the Bulls escaped with a 21-20 lead after a quarter of play.
The contest remained a close-knit affair in the second quarter, as Scola continued to give the Bulls problems with his combination of sophisticated footwork, savvy low-post moves and mid-range jumpers.
Not helping matters was the fact that both Robinson and fellow reserve Taj Gibson got into early foul trouble. The former was still effective as a scorer and playmaker, and while another backup, Marco Belinelli made an impact offensively, the Suns clung to a tenuous lead.
Phoenix played with energy and scrapped on the defensive end--not exactly their forte-- and were buoyed by contributions from the likes of Michael Beasley (20 points) to keep the hosts playing from behind. The former No. 2 overall draft pick in 2008 was actually considered as a possible top selection over Bulls All-Star Derrick Rose, is now an NBA journeyman and had been buried on the Suns bench as of late, but received minutes in this outing due to starter Jared Dudley being sidelined due to injury
Beasley caught fire toward the end of the half, helping the visitors widen the gap and acquire some breathing room. Capped off by a short jumper with 1.2 seconds remaining before the buzzer, his torrid stretch sent the Bulls into the intermission facing a 49-42 deficit.
After the break, the forward duo of Luol Deng (13 points) and Carlos Boozer (15 points, 10 rebounds) came to life--although the latter picked up a technical foul--but they were countered by Scola's continued positive play, as well as that of Chicago-area native Shannon Brown.
Although Boozer and Hamilton helped the Bulls play more efficiently on the offensive end, the home team's defense was lacking, resulting in Phoenix building a double-digit lead, as the visitors' momentum snowballed.
The Bulls' effort wasn't in question at this stage, but their execution and how long it took their sense of urgency to appear were issues. As the third period waned, it became clear that while the desire was there--most evidently in the case of Boozer and Noah--a blend of questionable officiating and bad bounces prevented them from making much headway.
Frustration clearly affected the Bulls--the normally even-keeled Deng also received a technical for berating an official--and as they headed into the final stanza trailing, 77-63, they had an uphill battle on their hands.
Playing with frantic energy at the outset of the fourth quarter, the Bulls' second unit, fueled by Jimmy Butler (13 points), appeared poised to mount one of their trademark rallies. But the inability to get stops on defense or string together an offensive run meant the hosts soon found themselves actually behind by an even larger margin.
Phoenix, playing its fourth game in five nights, had no sympathy for the Bulls' back-to-back plight, and exploited the Bulls' lack of cohesion and general impatience to maintain a stranglehold on the contest. In particular, center Marcin Gortat (eight points, 10 rebounds) and reserve point guard Sebastian Telfair (13 points, six assists) made their respective presences felt.
The unraveling of the Bulls continued, as Robinson and Thibodeau were both hit with technical fouls in short succession, giving the squad four on the evening, mostly in response to perceived non-calls by the referees.
Even Thibodeau saw the writing on the wall as the game entered its stretch run, as he removed his regulars from the contest and inserted the likes of rookie point guard Marquis Teague, seldom-used forward Vladimir Radmanovic and newly-acquired shooting guard Daequan Cook for the conclusion of the disappointing return to Chicago.

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

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AP

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

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Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

It was a gift and the Bulls weren't going to look it in the mouth as Dwyane Wade was poised to finish off another one of his sterling defensive plays with a breakaway dunk with the game tied and Arron Afflalo and DeMarcus Cousins trailing.

Lightly touched by the small of his back by Cousins, Wade miscalculated his liftoff and missed the dunk but was bailed out by the refs for a foul with 14 seconds left.

Then, he bailed the Bulls out.

Wade had his fifth fourth-quarter defensive play, stripping Cousins on a steal on the ensuing possession with the Sacramento Kings having a chance to win, leading to a Michael Carter-Williams dunk and finishing a 102-99 win Saturday night at the United Center.

It was a clock-turning performance for Wade on both ends of the floor, even if his missed dunk is a reminder that he is 35 years old. 

"I took off too far as I look at the instant replay," Wade said. "I should've took maybe one more dribble. Can't say I felt 35, I just took off too far (laughs). But hey, sometimes you get calls, sometimes you don't. I'm a person who hasn't gotten a lot all year so I'm not gonna apologize for nothing."

Stripping Cousins on his spin move was the finale, but he swatted an Arron Afflalo corner triple in the fourth, smothered Ty Lawson at the rim twice for blocked shots to end the third and tortured Lawson again in the fourth for another steal that led to him following up a Jimmy Butler missed layup with a follow and foul.

"Just a read," said Wade on stripping Cousins. "We knew he was gonna go to DeMarcus at that point. Once we forced him left, I knew he had to come back to the right hand. And being in the right place at the right time, the ball was right there for me."

Wade played like a desperate and motivated man, putting up 30 with six rebounds and four assists on the second night of a back-to-back is proof positive he took Friday's loss to Atlanta personally and used his play to back up those feelings.

He took to twitter to apologize for the poor effort against the Hawks, producing his best all-around performance as a Bull.

"We've been good in desperate moments," Wade said. "We haven't been good in non-desperate moments, when we win three in a row or playing a team that we should beat. But (in) the desperate moments I like us."

He scored 13 in the fourth, along with the last of his four blocked shots and all three of his steals took place in the final 12.

"I thought he was terrific," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He was aggressive all game long, taking the ball to the basket, getting to the line 15 times. He came up with two big plays."

Hoiberg threw out different lineups and rotations, playing Paul Zipser as a sixth man and having the second-round draft pick close the game. Zipser took advantage, hitting three triples and scoring 13 points.

"I thought it was night and day from last night," Hoiberg said. "Our energy was really good all night long. We got just enough stops to find a way to win."

Cousins dominated the game with 42 and 14 rebounds in 35 minutes, the only Kings player in double figures all night.

"He was pretty much unguardable for the majority of the game, Taj did a solid job on him," Hoiberg said. "When Robin was on him, they put him on the perimeter and let him shoot threes. He's a monster."

Back-to-back triples from Cousins gave him 40 and tied the game at 97, as a third one rimmed out with a little under two minutes left.

Cousins dominated the start of the third quarter, hitting midrange jumpers over Lopez and taunting the Bulls bench after hitting a jumper to put the Kings ahead, 70-63 midway through the third.

But the Bulls stayed close, with Hoiberg choosing to sit Rajon Rondo for the second half after playing him six minutes in the second quarter, using Wade as a point guard and going with Carter-Williams for defense, along with Zipser, who didn't look scared of the moment.

"I like the wrinkle coach put in there, putting him in early," Wade said. "He gave him an opportunity and he helped us big time."

Butler scored 23 with seven assists and five rebounds in 39 minutes, didn't have to play the hero for once and made fun of Wade's apology tweet.

"He was due for a big night," Butler said. "He can tweet again if he can come out again and give us 30 and some big steals and big dunks."

"I think that's what called of him, to score baskets and guard. It's kinda sneaky. You never really expect it until it happens."

It looked like the worst was over when the Bulls made a short run to end the third, surviving the onslaught from Cousins — and surviving their own experimenting with Zipser instead of going with Denzel Valentine, switching things up altogether.

But the tone was set by the leaders, who can only manufacture but so much urgency on a nightly basis.

"I like this team when we're desperate," Wade said. "A desperate team, we're not bad."