Bulls look to keep momentum going


Mar 30

By Adam Fluck

After winning four out of their last five games, the Bulls would love nothing more than to complete a season sweep of the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday at the United Center and inch closer to a playoff spot.

However, the Suns come in with an overall mark of 47-26 and a seven-game winning streak, thus securing a victory which would pull Chicago to within a half-game of 8th place in the Eastern Conference won’t be easy.

The good news is that rookie James Johnson is expected to play despite a right foot strain, Bulls Head Coach Vinny Del Negro said prior to the game.

“He battled through it last game [Sunday in Detroit] and sat out this morning’s shootaround,” said Del Negro. “I know he’s playing through some pain, so we try to pick our spots with him. We’ll need him [against the Suns].”

Del Negro also reported progress with Luol Deng (right calf strain), who began running on Tuesday, but said that no target date had been set for his return.

“We’re hoping that every day he’ll get a little bit better. It’s got to be a little bit of a process—we can’t just throw him out there or he’ll re-injure himself,” said Del Negro. “He said he is feeling better, so we’ll take it a day at a time. Hopefully, we’ll get him back for the next game or the following one; I just don’t know how his leg is going to react.”

On March 19, Del Negro announced that Deng would likely miss two to three weeks with his calf strain. Thus, the two-week mark hits this Friday, when the Bulls hit the road to face the Washington Wizards. Chicago will return home the following night to host the Charlotte Bobcats, currently seventh place in the East.

“Did you not get the memo? Derrick Rose can go upstairs!”

The Bulls’ 115-104 triumph over the Suns in Phoenix on Jan. 22 was one of five consecutive wins over above-.500 Western Conference teams on the road, a first in NBA history. On that night, Rose unleashed a dunk that will perhaps go down as the highlight of the year.

Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry was asked if he offered any advice to Goran Dragic, who attempted to unsuccessfully challenge Rose’s attack on the rim.

“We told him he’s got to be a little smarter, unless he likes seeing himself on SportsCenter,” said Gentry. “He’s a competitor. The same thing happened two nights later when a guy went in and he blocked a dunk. You just have to pick your places—I don’t know that you want to try that with Derrick Rose.

“To me, it didn’t surprise me that Derrick made that play,” Gentry added. “I think he’s really improved. The thing that hurt us is that we did a great job of keeping him out of the lane, but he made eight jump shots. If he makes eight jump shots against you, you’re almost rendered helpless. He’s a great player. I love his court temperament. That was the most emotion I’ve ever seen him show on the court after that dunk. He does a great job of playing with the utmost composure. He’s never really up and he’s never really down.”

Rose has enjoyed a good amount of success against the Suns and two-time MVP Steve Nash. Rose averaged 22.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg and 5.0 apg in 36.0 mpg last year against Phoenix, while Nash posted 10.5 ppg, 7.5 apg and 1.0 rpg in 31.0 mpg in two games versus the Bulls last year.

The Bulls are 38-21 all-time versus the Suns in Chicago, including 9-7 at the United Center. Chicago has won three of its last four games in Phoenix. Last year, the Bulls swept the season series for the first time since 1996-97.

Audio—Bulls Head Coach Vinny Del Negro talks about what has worked for the Suns as of late and the run that Amar’e Stoudemire has had since the NBA All-Star break (03.30.10):

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