Bulls win 3rd straight, sweep season series with Suns

Tribune reporter

PHOENIX — The first season sweep of Phoenix since 1996-97 and first three-game winning streak since April 2007 surely isn't embarrassing.

And even before the Bulls' impressive 122-111 victory over the Suns on Saturday night, Jerry Reinsdorf had contacted Vinny Del Negro to clarify his biting criticism from the previous day in which the Bulls' chairman called this season a "disaster" and "embarrassing."

Reinsdorf told Del Negro his remarks were directed to the staff dynamic as a whole rather than merely the rookie coach. Reinsdorf is scheduled to meet with Del Negro face to face here Sunday or Monday because the Bulls are staying in town.

They have plenty to celebrate after posting a season high in points, and one thing to worry: Derrick Rose took himself out of the game with 6 minutes 42 seconds left after suffering a sprain on top of his left foot as he descended from a dunk.

"It has been hurting for a while, but I haven't dunked in so long and I had the chance and it stung," said Rose, who never before had taken himself out of a game voluntarily. "I should be fine with treatment."

The Bulls treated their previous five-game losing streak and the minor controversy surrounding Reinsdorf's remarks with inspired play, shooting 50 percent and never trailing in posting their third straight road victory over a Western Conference team for the first time since November 2005.

"It's how he felt," guard Kirk Hinrich said of Reinsdorf. "He is our boss. It's unfortunate. But all we can do is try to get better. We're playing together as a team."

Rose and Ben Gordon each scored 26 points for the Bulls, who led 105-101 when Shaquille O'Neal missed a reverse layup and Gordon subsequently nailed a three-pointer. After a 24-second violation on Steve Nash, Luol Deng scored on a conventional three-point play that fouled out O'Neal.

"We're just playing with more confidence," Gordon said. "We're making better decisions and getting stops when we need them."

In contrast to the fiery sideline demeanor he flashed while coaching against the franchise that used to employ him, Del Negro downplayed Reinsdorf's remarks for the second straight day.

"Jerry is the boss," Del Negro said. "He can say whatever he wants whenever he wants. I'm going to stay focused on what we need to do."

Del Negro admitted meshing with new veteran assistants Del Harris, Bernie Bickerstaff and Bob Ociepka has taken time.

"That just goes with having a new system and staff," Del Negro said. "I wasn't around this team last year so I had to get a feel for them and how best to utilize their skills.

"But [this staff has] seen it all. So they just fall into place. And they know what the challenges are. They work hard and are supportive and experienced and knowledgeable. We try to work together and try to make smart decisions that help the team. They've been great in supporting me as a first-year coach."

The Tribune reported as soon as the Bulls hired Del Negro that his first choice for lead assistant was former Spurs and SuperSonics coach Bob Hill. General manager John Paxson vetoed that move, then worked with Del Negro to assemble the current staff.

Team sources say Del Negro gets along well personally with his assistants, but the staff as a whole has struggled occasionally to mesh.

"I just worry about what I can control," Del Negro said.

On Saturday, that was a game against the franchise for which he played, broadcast and worked in management until last season. Del Negro also interviewed for the coaching job general manager Steve Kerr gave to Terry Porter.

But he refused to gloat.

"I'm just happy for our guys," Del Negro said.


Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad