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Bulls hand new-look Suns fourth straight loss

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CHICAGO — Chicago Bulls forward Pau Gasol offered a tired laugh when asked whether he enjoyed playing in an up-tempo game that resembled a track meet.

“Not necessarily,” Gasol, 34, said with a grin. “I enjoy winning. I enjoy playing well.”

In that case, the 14-year NBA veteran had plenty to enjoy Saturday night. The Bulls held on for a 112-107 win against the Phoenix Suns behind a team-leading 22 points and 14 rebounds from Gasol, who recorded his league-leading 36th double-double of the season.

Forward Jimmy Butler added 19 points for Chicago, which earned its fifth win in the past six games. Guard Derrick Rose tallied 16 points with four assists for the Bulls (35-21).

Forward P.J. Tucker led Phoenix with 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting. Forward Marcus Morris scored 17 points off the bench for the Suns (29-27), and guard Brandon Knight scored 13 points in his first game since arriving from the Milwaukee Bucks two days earlier.

Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said a recent roster overhaul presented a challenge but did not serve as an excuse for the loss. Phoenix was busy before Thursday’s trade deadline by acquiring Knight from Milwaukee and guard Marcus Thornton from Boston while shipping out a handful of players including guard Goran Dragic, guard Isaiah Thomas and center Miles Plumlee.

Better defense was needed regardless of who played, Hornacek said. The Bulls shot 48.3 percent from the field (43 of 89) and made half of their shots from 3-point range (12 of 24).

Phoenix dropped its fourth consecutive game despite shooting 53.4 percent from the field (47 of 88).

“Decent defense isn’t challenging the shot,” Hornacek said. “It’s not allowing them to be open in the first place.”

A steady flow of open looks sparked a 10-0 run for the Bulls in the fourth quarter. Center Joakim Noah found forward Taj Gibson for an alley-oop slam dunk to tie the score at 85, and guard Aaron Brooks drilled back-to-back 3-pointers to grab a 91-85 lead with 8:44 remaining. Chicago increased its lead to nine before the Suns closed the gap to 108-107 in the final minute.

Rose scored six points in the final 4:16 on a series of aggressive drives to the rim. He said he was eager to move past his struggles one night earlier in a loss to Detroit, during which he scored eight points with six turnovers.

“My teammates gave me the opportunity to drive the lane,” Rose said. “They gave me the ball in very good positions to score, and they got out of the way. All I was trying to do was dictate the game and facilitate.”

The Suns entered the fourth quarter with an 83-81 edge after leading by as many as eight points in the third quarter. Knight scored nine points on 4-for-5 shooting in the third quarter.

Knight admitted that his first game with the Suns represented a work in progress. His first pass attempt sailed out of bounds for a turnover, but he recovered with a stellar alley-oop pass to guard Archie Goodwin for a layup in the second half.

“The point guard position takes time,” Knight said. “It’s tough to come in and figure things out right away. I need to learn their system. It’s important that I do that right now.”

Phoenix shot 58.1 percent from the field (25 of 43) to grab a 56-52 halftime lead. The Suns erased a seven-point deficit early in the second quarter with an 8-0 run that included a trio of fast-break baskets by Goodwin, who finished the game with 12 points in 17 minutes.

The Bulls led 33-28 after a fast-paced first quarter that included two ties and five lead changes. Forward Mike Dunleavy made a pair of 3-pointers and finished with 10 points in the first 12 minutes for Chicago, which closed the quarter on a 21-12 run.

NOTES: Phoenix G Brandon Knight joined his new team two days after he was acquired from the Milwaukee Bucks as part of a three-team deal that sent G Michael Carter-Williams from Philadelphia to Milwaukee. … Knight came off the bench so he could have a few minutes to watch the offense. … Bulls G Kirk Hinrich (illness) did not play. Coach Tom Thibodeau said the 34-year-old Hinrich felt ill after returning from Friday’s loss in Detroit. … Phoenix G Marcus Thornton made his team debut after the Suns acquired him from the Boston Celtics on Thursday, but did not play. … It marked the fourth team that has played for since the opening night of last season. … Bulls F Pau Gasol started despite being listed on the team’s injury report with a bruised left thigh. … Suns G Gerald Green started his fourth game of the season.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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