At the start of the NBA season it seemed as though more teams were battling for lottery position than contending for the championship.
Phoenix was expected to be one of the top tankers, but the Suns will roll into the United Center on Tuesday with a surprising 20-12 record. That's one example of why coach Tom Thibodeau refuses to give up on the Bulls' injury-plagued season.
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"I've been around a long time. I've seen a lot of things happen in the playoffs," Thibodeau said Monday. "We have to do the work that's necessary to get there. You never know what can happen. I've seen a lot of crazy things."
It's early, but this has been a relatively crazy start for the Suns. First-year general manager Ryan McDonough, 33, pieced together a winning lineup with plenty of spare parts.
He acquired Eric Bledsoe from the Clippers for Jared Dudley to create a twin point-guard lineup with Goran Dragic. Both players are averaging 18 points, though Bledsoe is expected to miss the Bulls game with a sore knee.
McDonough traded Luis Scola to Indiana and got a couple of guys in Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee who played little for the Pacers but are key players in Phoenix. Plumlee has started every game at center.
The Suns also have a first-time head coach in Chicago-area native Jeff Hornacek. He played for the Suns before moving on to Utah and losing to the Bulls in the 1996 and '97 NBA Finals.
"Jeff has been around. He played for Jerry (Sloan); he's coached under Jerry. So I'm not surprised," Thibodeau said. "I had a chance to work with Ryan McDonough in Boston, so I know how sharp he is. I think they've made some really good moves."
Bulls forward Carlos Boozer was in Utah when Hornacek first joined the coaching staff. The Bulls interviewed Hornacek during their coaching searches of 2008 and '10.
"It was one of those things where everybody was hiring shooting coaches, like the Spurs hired Chip Engelland, and it was kind of one of those positions where we offered it to him, he jumped on it and did a great job," Boozer said of Hornacek. "I don't know if Kyle (Korver) needed much help, but he did a heck of a job with us.
"We made him an assistant and he was always helping guys out. He'd come into the gym early, come to the gym late, and you can see his team now. Everybody was picking them last in the league."
Hornacek attended Lyons Township High School before playing in college at Iowa State. His father, John, was varsity baseball coach at St. Joseph High School in Westchester. Jeff recently placed his coaching style as a cross between Sloan and former Suns coach Cotton Fitzsimmons.
"I must be between them because I feel I'm yelling more than Cotton would, but I don't think I'm yelling as much as Jerry," Hornacek told The Arizona Republic.
For the Bulls, Tuesday's game could be seen as another measuring stick. They've won five of the last seven games and could record their first three-game winning streak since Derrick Rose was injured. Rose now rehabs at the Berto Center daily, so he's around his teammates, though he hasn't appeared yet at any games.
"Losing Derrick again hit us hard, harder than we expected," said Boozer, who probably won't play Tuesday because of a sore right knee.
"That was difficult to get over. I think we're climbing right now. I think we have come to grips with what's going on with our team. I think we have a chance to climb up a little bit. We want to keep it going and keep improving."