Bulls-Suns: Two struggling teams meet in Chicago

By Jeff Arnold, The Sports Xchange

CHICAGO — As one of three NBA teams that are winless on the road this season, the Phoenix Suns have experienced plenty of disappointment away from home.

The Chicago Bulls have gone through their share of setbacks as well — mostly as it relates to the health of their team.

So with seven combined victories between them heading into Wednesday’s meeting at the United Center, the Suns and Bulls are hoping that a victory could provide a glimmer of hope.

The Suns dropped to 0-7 on the road on Monday when the Philadelphia 76ers handed Phoenix a 119-114 setback. The Suns exploded out of the gates and led by 15 points in the first quarter, saw their lead diminish by five at halftime and then couldn’t produce enough down the stretch. As a result they head into Wednesday’s game on a two-game losing streak.

Phoenix, which is in the midst of a four-game road swing, has lost six of its last seven games despite 37 points and eight assists from Devin Booker in Monday night’s loss.

He said despite the strong start, the Suns’ inability to finish in what Booker described as “nitty gritty time” proved costly.

“When we needed each other more than anything, we folded,” Booker told reporters after the loss, according to the Arizona Republic.

The Bulls will enter Wednesday’s game on a four-game skid following a 122-83 loss against the Toronto Raptors. Chicago hasn’t been healthy all season and has played without the services of starters Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis and reserve forward/guard Denzel Valentine.

On Monday, the Bulls announced Valentine — a 2016 first-round draft pick — will miss the remainder of the season to recover from an ankle injury that has kept him off the floor all season. While Valentine isn’t considered a core performer, losing another player to injury is just the latest hit to a team that has been forced to absorb plenty of them this season.

Markkanen, meanwhile, participated in individual shooting drills during Monday’s practice and continues to move closer to returning from an elbow injury that has prevented him from playing.

Markkanen was scheduled to miss 6-8 weeks, but later had his injury timetable bumped back to 10 weeks.

“We’ll see how he responds and if we can keep up his activity level after that,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Zach LaVine, who leads the Bulls in scoring with a career-high 25.3 points per game, expects to return on Wednesday against the Suns after missing Saturday’s loss to Toronto due to illness.

LaVine told reporters that he likely should not have played in a Friday loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. But he will come back on Wednesday as he hopes to return to earlier form when he was shooting 51 percent from the field. He is hitting just 36 percent of his shots this month.

“I take some tough ones going to the rim,” he said. “I try not to force them but get back to where I was scoring the ball really easy and getting six, seven easy ones in the paint,” LaVine said, according to the Tribune. “Try to draw fouls and get to the free-throw line.

“I worked this summer on being able to create around the rim and draw contact and finish with both hands creatively. Obviously, I know you’re going to get your shot blocked every once in a while.”