The New Year has been kind to the Chicago Bulls, who seem to be flying under the radar even though they're currently fifth in the Eastern Conference.
Coming off some impressive wins over Miami and New York in the past week, Chicago aims to stay hot when it hosts the Phoenix Suns Saturday night from the United Center. The Bulls won for the fourth time in five games this month with Friday's 108-101 victory at the Knicks.
Luol Deng scored a season-high 33 points, including 21 points in the first half, on 13-for-18 shooting for the Bulls, who owned a 29-18 first-quarter lead and then pushed the advantage to 57-36 at the break. Chicago outshot New York 57.5 percent to 29.8 percent in the first half.
"We know that when we show up, and you know, stick to the game plan, we can really play with anyone in this league," Deng said.
Knicks star Carmelo Anthony returned from a one-game suspension, but couldn't help his team avoid a three-game slide. Bulls forward Carlos Boozer had his streak of double-doubles snapped at six, finishing with 17 points and six rebounds. Rip Hamilton had 14 points in the win.
The Bulls are currently playing eight of 11 games in the Windy City and are 10-9 as the host this season. They sit one game behind Indiana for the Central Division lead and will host Atlanta Monday night.
Phoenix is mired in a 12-game road losing streak and will wrap up a four-game trek this evening at Chicago.
The Suns fell to 0-3 on the sojourn and have lost five straight overall and 11 of their last 12 games. In a 99-79 setback at Brooklyn on Friday, Jared Dudley connected on all four of his 3-point attempts and finished with a team-high 18 points for the Suns, who were held under 100 points for a seventh straight game and managed to score just 26 points in the second half.
The Nets scored more points in the third quarter (28) than the Suns did in the second half. Phoenix, though, shot 53.7 percent in the first half and led by seven at halftime. But the Suns made only nine field goals over the last 24 minutes and haven't posted a road victory since Nov. 27 at Cleveland.
"We're struggling as a team, collectively," Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. "I thought we did a good job in the first half, but we have to be able to put together 48 minutes."
Suns guard Goran Dragic had 12 points in the loss and is averaging 15.4 points, 6.1 assists and 1.25 steals in his last eight games. Forward Luis Scola netted 12 points as well against the Nets and has averages of 17.5 points and 7.3 rebounds in his previous eight contests.
Phoenix will return to the desert for two straight games following its tilt with the Bulls and is still stuck on 1,999 franchise victories.
The Suns dropped a 112-106 overtime decision to Chicago on Nov. 14 this season and have lost four straight, seven of eight and eight of the past 11 meetings between the teams.