By Mike McGraw
Chicago might soon become the most popular destination in the NBA, but not for reasons that would benefit the Bulls.
The United Center has become the spot to break long losing streaks. Charlotte snapped an 18-game skid Dec. 31, then Phoenix waltzed into the building Saturday, playing its fourth game in five nights, and trounced the Bulls 97-81 to end a 12-game road losing streak. Before this night, they were 2-17 on the road.
“Obviously, it was a much, much, much needed win for us,” Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said. “And it was against a quality team, so that made it even better.”
In many ways, this was a replay of the Charlotte game. A struggling team desperate for a win actually played very well.
Whether the Bulls were looking past the Suns or were basking in Friday’s victory in New York, they didn’t come close to winning this one.
The Suns shot 49.3 percent from the field, led by 14 points heading into the fourth quarter, and the Bulls never got closer than 12 the rest of the way.
“We have to circle the wagons and we’ve got to take a hard look at everything we’re doing,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Everyone has to do it, starting with me. I have to get more out of our team. It’s my job to have them ready. Right now we’re not doing as well as we should.”
The loss dropped the Bulls’ home record to 10-10. Away from home, they are 10-5, which is tied with Oklahoma City for best in the league.
“It’s weird to have a great road record and an average home record, especially with our team. We’ve been so dominant at home over the last few years,” Carlos Boozer said. “There’s nobody out there going to fix it; we’ve got to fix it ourselves. We will. I’m confident our group of guys will turn our home record around.”
This one started to get away from the Bulls late in the second quarter when Phoenix forward Michael Beasley scored 12 points in the final four minutes of the first half, lifting the Suns to a 49-42 advantage at intermission.
Beasley hadn’t been playing much recently. He’d scored just 6 points in the previous eight games combined but got a chance Saturday because starter Jared Dudley was sidelined by a wrist injury.
The Bulls had one chance to build some momentum. Early in the fourth quarter, a block by Taj Gibson and follow slam from Jimmy Butler had the crowd buzzing.
But the Bulls didn’t capitalize on two chances to get the deficit below 12, and Phoenix responded with a Marcin Gortat turnaround and Sebastian Telfair 3-pointer to go up 82-65 with 9:25 left,
The only thing left was to count the technical fouls. The frustrated Bulls finished with 4, by Boozer, Luol Deng, Nate Robinson and Thibodeau. The most frequent complaint was lack of foul calls when the Bulls drove to the basket.
“People had been thinking I’m a superhero, so I had to show them I’m human and I get frustrated, too,” Deng joked. “Seriously, I’m disappointed I let my frustration get the best of me. It happens. Some calls go your way, some don’t go your way.
“We’re losing. I’ve definitely got to keep my composure and do a better job of that.”
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