More often than not after Sunday's noon tipoff, the high-flying Suns played like they had one foot still in their hotel beds and one foot on their charter flight back to Phoenix.
Yet holding the Suns to 88 points, their second-lowest output this season and 22 below their average, meant nothing for a Bulls team that put up 77 for the second straight game and scored just two points in the first 6 minutes 47 seconds of the fourth quarter.
That's when the Suns pulled away with a 12-0 run, including eight straight from Leandro Barbosa, who drained a game-winning three-pointer at the United Center last season.
The Bulls again played without Luol Deng and Ben Gordon. They dropped under .500 (8-9) for the first time since Jim Boylan became interim coach.
"It's hard to find answers," Kirk Hinrich said after leading all scorers with 31 points. "We run so many plays for those guys."
Leave it to a veteran like Joe Smith to swat away talk about the Bulls being banged-up as an excuse, especially because Grant Hill sat with back spasms for the Suns.
"This is the no-pity league," Smith said. "Guys have to step up."
The Bulls at least did defensively, forcing Steve Nash into six of the Suns' 19 turnovers and harassing them into 41.6 percent shooting. One game after draining 17 three-pointers to win in Cleveland, the Suns made just 5 of 25 from behind the arc.
But after Tyrus Thomas' lay-in pulled the Bulls within 70-66 with 9:40 to play, the Bulls failed to score on seven straight possessions. The drought featured three turnovers and six misses, including three missed layups and a Thomas dunk attempt.
"We were searching for offense," Boylan said. "We had good opportunities to score around the basket several times but couldn't convert."
During this stretch, the Bulls used lineups of Hinrich, Chris Duhon, Thomas, Joakim Noah and Ben Wallace. Another featured Andres Nocioni in place of Noah.
Nocioni finally ended the 4:27 scoreless drought with a three-pointer. But the Suns led by 13 by then, and Nocioni shot 3-for-13 and is just 21-for-61 over his last five games.
Smith, who had fluid drained from his surgically repaired right knee on Saturday, went 2-for-12 as the Bulls shot 34.7 percent. Boylan said his offensive options are limited.
"I'm not quite sure exactly what I can do," he said. "But we're going to see if we can dream up something."
The cold reality showered down in the form of boos as Thomas kicked away a turnover on the Bulls' final possession, much like the Bulls kicked away a solid defensive effort against the league's highest-scoring team.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun