The Chicago Bulls have earned road wins over two of the Eastern Conference’s best teams in the past eight days but they’ve had a bad habit of losing to struggling foes in recent home games.
They’ll try to avoid another such defeat when the Phoenix Suns, losers in 12 straight on the road, visit the United Center on Saturday night.
After winning at Miami on Jan. 4, the Bulls beat another division-leading team, the New York Knicks, in their next road game Friday. Chicago, though, missed a chance for a blowout victory after allowing the Knicks to trim a 21-point lead with 3:47 remaining to seven with 1:07 to go in that 108-101 victory.
“We’ve showed it this year, when we really focus and lock in, whoever we play we’ve been able to play with them,” said Luol Deng, who had a season-high 33 points on 13-of-18 shooting. “We know that when we show up, and you know, stick to the game plan, we can really play with anyone in this league.”
While the Bulls have earned some high-profile road wins, they’ve also stumbled against a pair of teams that came limping into the United Center. Chicago (20-14) fell 91-81 on Dec. 31 to a Charlotte club that had lost 18 in a row, and was beaten 104-96 on Wednesday by a Milwaukee team that had dropped four of five and had recently changed coaches.
The Bulls would appear to have a better chance to get past Phoenix since they’ve won four straight and seven of eight in the series, but they also blew an 18-point lead to the Suns on Nov. 14 and had to go to overtime for a 112-106 road victory. Boozer had 28 points and 14 rebounds in that win, while Deng and Joakim Noah chipped in 21 points apiece.
Boozer, who had his double-double streak ended at six on Friday, also had 31 points in a 118-97 home victory over the Suns on Jan. 17. Deng was drafted by the Suns with the No. 7 overall pick in 2004 before being traded to Chicago that same night.
Phoenix (12-26) could use Deng’s help as it’s surpassed 81 points only once during a five-game losing streak. The Suns, also losers in 11 of 12, have been held under 80 in each of the last two games, including a 99-79 drubbing in Brooklyn on Friday.
With 18 points, Jared Dudley was the only starter to score more than 12. Shannon Brown had 15 points off the bench but missed 10 of 15 shots. The Suns shot 39.2 percent and have been held under 40 in three of the last four games.
“It’s almost as though we’re starting to lose our confidence, and we can’t do that,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “I think you have to fight through all of that and continue to play, continue to execute.”
Gentry’s team hasn’t won a road game since Nov. 27 and is close to matching a 14-game losing streak from Jan. 3-Feb. 17, 1984.
Phoenix remains one win shy of becoming the ninth NBA team to reach 2,000 and the fourth fastest. The Bulls have 1,950 all-time victories.
Luis Scola had 24 points and 14 rebounds in the loss to the Bulls in November and is averaging 23.0 points and 9.3 boards in his last six matchups. Scola, though, hasn’t scored more than 16 points in any of Phoenix’s five straight losses and has registered more than eight rebounds only once.