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Lineup shake-up sparks Bulls' lockdown effort vs. hot Suns
Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro insisted he was not trying to make a statement Friday night when he changed two starters in his lineup.
Perhaps not. But the entire team seemed to get the message.
The Bulls won their third game of the season in impressive style, defeating the Phoenix Suns 100-83 with a spirited defensive effort against the NBA's most potent offense as well as a solid contribution from their bench.
Oh yes, and the Bulls also shot well (51.9 percent), rebounded well (47-33), limited mistakes (just 12 turnovers) and were unselfish.
"Amazing how that works," Del Negro said. "Unbelievable. We had one of those nights. Moving the basketball, guys knowing their roles. I'm just happy for the guys. Tonight, everyone contributed."
The Bulls (3-3) also halted the Suns' three-game winning streak and managed to contain Amare Stoudemire, who was coming off an all-time, all-around 49-point performance two nights earlier at Indiana but finished Friday with a rather mortal 26 points.
The victory, however, may have come at some cost.
Kirk Hinrich, who was back in the starting lineup in place of Thabo Sefolosha, left the game in the third quarter with a sprained right thumb and will undergo an MRI on Saturday morning after scoring five points on 2-of-4 shooting, getting five assists and providing good help defense on Steve Nash.
Drew Gooden also rolled his right ankle when he landed on teammate Ben Gordon midway through the second quarter, but Gooden returned in the second half and said he hopes to play Saturday night against Cleveland.
Gooden was instrumental against Stoudemire, draping himself over one of the league's most gifted players, along with Joakim Noah off the bench, and limiting Stoudemire to 5-of-10 shooting (he was 16 of 18 from the line).
Two nights earlier against the Pacers, Stoudemire's 49 points on 17-of-21 shooting, 11 rebounds, six assists and five steals marked the first time an NBA player had scored at least 49 points with 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals since 1974, when Golden State's Rick Barry did it.
Noah, with nine points and 14 rebounds, was just one cog in the Bulls' strong bench effort as they outscored the Suns' reserves 50-25, led by Ben Gordon's 23 points.
Tyrus Thomas, replaced in the starting lineup by Aaron Gray, finished with 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting and seven rebounds in 26 minutes, while Gray contributed two points and four rebounds in 15 minutes.
The game also had a marquee matchup in the NBA's No. 1 draft pick, Derrick Rose, against likely Hall of Famer Steve Nash. Rose shined in comparison with aggressive play on both ends of the court. He scored 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting and six assists. Nash had six points on 2-of-7 shooting and five assists in 24 minutes.
"He's just going to make me better," Rose said of the matchup.
The Bulls led by 17 points in the second quarter and 27 in the third as they never were challenged seriously.
Suns' coach Terry Porter gave Shaquille O'Neal the night off to rest. O'Neal is to return to the lineup Saturday night against Andrew Bogut and the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Suns (4-2) were also without forward Matt Barnes, whose fiance gave birth to twins this week.