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Suns Strokes: Phoenix closes out homestand by edging Chicago Bulls

Once again, the basketball gods smiled down on the Phoenix Suns.

After catching Washington on the back end of a back-to-back, the Suns hosted the Chicago Bulls, who were playing their second game in as many nights.

Though it wasn’t easy — is it ever with this team? –the Suns won their second straight, 99-93, to finish 6-2 on their franchise-record eight-game homestand.

Eric Bledsoe led the Suns (28-20) with 23 points, scoring the final four points of the game with a 6-foot bank shot and two free throws to seal the victory after the Bulls had closed to within two.

Chicago (30-19) — playing its third game in four days, plus an extra 15 minutes after an overtime win at Golden State on Tuesday and a double overtime loss at the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, rallied from 16 down to take a 67-66 lead late in the third quarter, but then struggled down the stretch, missing four of its final five shots.

Derrick Rose (23), Jimmy Butler (22) and Aaron Brooks (21) each hit the 20-point mark for the Bulls.

The Suns dug themselves out of a season-worst 13-point third quarter with a 31-point fourth period.

Goran Dragic finished with 21 and Markieff Morris recorded his seventh double-double of the year with 12 points and a season-best 14 rebounds.

Phoenix snapped a five-game home losing streak to Chicago.

THE GOOD

With time winding down in the first quarter, Isaiah Thomas dialed in from long distance and hit a 33-foot 3-pointer with 1.9 seconds left to give the Suns a 26-23 lead.

With seven points and three assists, Bledsoe had a hand in half of the Suns’ 26 first-quarter points. He shot 3-of-4 from the field, including one 3-pointer.

Bledsoe finished shooting 8-of-16 and has now scored 20 or more points 16 times this season, including three times in the last five games.

Marcus Morris scored seven points in a 14-0 run that put the Suns in front 40-25 at 8:12 of the second quarter. He hit a step-back 24-foot 3-pointer, a 6-foot runner and 12-foot fadeaway jumper. Morris also had two steals in the period.

Dragic scored nine of his team-high 15 first-half points in the second quarter. He shot 6-of-11 with one 3-pointer and a pair of free throws, the last of which gave the Suns their largest lead of the half, 55-39, with 57.8 seconds remaining in the period.

Markieff Morris had eight points and five rebounds in the fourth quarter. He had missed seven straight field goal attempts before hitting back-to-back jump shots to begin the period. Morris was 4-of-7 from the field in the period, misfiring on his only 3-point attempt.

THE BAD

Not looking like a team that arrived at its hotel at 3:30 a.m., the Bulls went on an early 9-2 run to go up 9-6 at 8:19 of the first quarter. Butler started the run with a 3-pointer. He finished the quarter with a team-high seven points.

Trailing by 15, the Bulls went on a 9-2 run to pull to within 42-34 at 4:09 of the second quarter. Butler scored four, and Rose had three, including an emphatic two-handed dunk to punctuate the run. Butler (13) and Rose (10) combined to score 23 first-half points.

Though he grabbed a team-best eight first-half rebounds, Markieff Morris struggled with his shot. He missed seven of his eight attempts, including the last six in a row. Morris was also dogged by foul trouble, picking up his third with 22.5 seconds left in the second quarter.

Kirk Hinrich’s 4-foot jumper with 35.9 seconds left in the third quarter capped a 22-6 Bulls run to give Chicago its first lead, 67-66, since late in the first quarter. The Suns did themselves no favors, shooting 26.1 percent, missing 17 of 23 shots and getting outscored 25-13 in the period.

Pau Gasol recorded a game-high and Suns opponent season-high 19 rebounds, including 11 in the third quarter, to go along with 10 points for his ninth consecutive double-double, the second-longest such streak of his career.

STAT OF THE GAME

41.4: The shooting percentage of the Bulls, only the second time this season the Suns held the opposition to 42 percent or lower in back-to-back games

HE SAID IT

“Really, it was our defense. I thought our defense played great tonight,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said. “They challenged just about every shot. There was a little stretch there in the third quarter where we were fouling too much, and that hurt our offense, too, because then we couldn’t get it out and go. Overall, it was a great game. We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but we made them in the fourth quarter when we needed it.”

NOTED

– The Suns improved to 5-0 on national television this season, and 3-0 when playing on ESPN.

– The Suns played in front of a sold-out crowd of 18,055 — just their second sellout of the season.

– Gerald Green dressed but did not play, missing the first game of his two-year tenure with the Suns; he just got squeezed out of the rotation, according to Hornacek.

– Neither team made a free throw in the first quarter, with the Bulls missing all seven of their attempts, including an 0-of-5 effort by Pau Gasol. The Suns went the entire period without a single attempt.

– Spotted in the crowd: Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller, ESPN’s Michael Wilbon and Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter, who delivered the game ball.

– D-League Bakersfield update: Reggie Bullock had 26 points (10-of-23 shooting) and 11 rebounds in 33 minutes, while Archie Goodwin finished with 24 (9-of-19 shooting) and 10 boards in 32 minutes in a 136-126 loss at the Los Angeles D-Fenders.

– Suns’ connection to the Super Bowl: In 24 seasons in which the NFC won the Super Bowl, the Suns have posted an average 82-game record of 48-34 and advanced to the playoffs in 17 of 24 seasons; in 22 seasons in which the AFC won, the Suns have had an average 82-game record of 43-39 and made the playoffs in 12 of 22 seasons.

UP NEXT

It has been three weeks since the Suns have played a game outside of Arizona.

That changes this weekend.

Immediately after Friday’s game, the Suns left town for a quick one-game road trip to Golden State for a matchup with the Warriors (36-8) on Saturday. Tipoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.

In the first meeting on Nov. 9, 2014, the Suns dominated the fourth quarter at home to turn an eight-point deficit entering the period into a 12-point victory, 107-95, which handed Golden State its first loss of the season. Green and Thomas each nearly outscored the Warriors in the quarter as they combined for 31 of the Suns’ 36 points, while Phoenix held Golden State to just 16.

Thomas finished with a team-high 22 points, and Green had 19.

The win snapped a six-game losing streak against the Warriors.