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Short-handed Suns missing energy, open looks in home loss to Bulls

Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine, left, drives past Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 18, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — It doesn’t matter who wasn’t playing or who the Phoenix Suns were playing against on Monday night.

Yes, they were without Richaun Holmes, Tyler Johnson, Kelly Oubre Jr. and T.J. Warren. They were also facing off with the Chicago Bulls, one of the worst teams in the league.

But no matter how those variables change depending on the circumstances, it was a major disappointment to see the Suns come out flat and fail to execute in a 116-101 loss to the Bulls.

“They [overworked] us, [overplayed] us in almost every second of the game,” head coach Igor Kokoskov said after the game, noting multiple times the better team won.

In a game the Suns trailed by 19 as soon as the early second quarter, Phoenix (17-55) looked stuck in a haze through a majority of the game. 

That can be attributed some to missing Holmes and Oubre, who are the two players who bring the most positive energy on the court through their play. They’ve also relied on Johnson’s playmaking and steady play on both ends.

But at the same time, the Bulls (20-52) are the Bulls, they were without Otto Porter Jr. and Robin Lopez’s 24 led Chicago in scoring.

The third quarter had the exception. The Suns scored 30 points in the 12 minutes and there was a slight spark there that carried over into the opening of the fourth quarter.

The issue was Chicago having 86 points of their own through three quarters. Giving that up to the league’s second-worst offense is a losing recipe.

In a nugget Kokoskov dropped himself, Chicago converted only four 3-pointers but scored a jaw-dropping 76 points in the paint.

“We really [were] just off to be honest,” Deandre Ayton said. “It was just really bad rhythm.”

Devin Booker appeared to make it his priority to make up for all the missing scoring. He attempted nine shots in the first quarter, but couldn’t find his flow within the game, shooting 3-of-11 for the first half.

He said as much afterward.

“It felt off,” Booker said of his misses early. “First couple — three, four, five. Open looks, though. Those are looks I want for sure.”

Booker finished with 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists on 24 shot attempts.

Ayton did his best to make up for Booker’s off-night when the Suns needed both of them at their best. He was productive offensively while remaining active defensively. Ayton had 25 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocks. It was the first game of Ayton’s career in which he had at least three steals and blocks.

Josh Jackson, as many would have predicted, tried to be that third scorer. While he did so successfully on the box score with 18 points, his reckless and unattentive play on both ends of the court drastically hurt the Suns as it has all season.

If there’s good news for the Suns, it’s that they stay at home and aren’t playing again until Thursday against the Detroit Pistons. That gives them time to flush a poor effort and hopefully get another player or two back from injury.

That game’s tip-off is at 7 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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