Following Jeramie McPeek’s entertaining and well-received 48 Minutes of Blog, I thought I would give it a shot on the last home game before the All-Star break. I will be filing reports live during tonight’s game from the press box at US Airways Center, so click back throughout the evening.

Nash, Diaw to Sit, Barbosa and Banks to Start

Banks and Barbosa will both be in the starting lineup tonight against the Bulls4:55 p.m. – I actually start this blog from the press room over an hour before tip off.  Mike D’Antoni has announced that neither Steve Nash nor Boris Diaw will be able to go tonight.  D’Antoni said Nash is feeling a bit better, but is still experiencing pain in his right shoulder and will be held out.  Diaw continues to deal with back spasms and will sit out the contest, as well.

Leandro Barbosa and Marcus Banks will get the starting nods to with Raja Bell, Shawn Marion and Amaré Stoudemire.  The Coach also said to expect James Jones and Pat Burke’s roles to increase, as well as possibly the first meaningful minutes from former Bulls guard Jalen Rose. 

Should be another good test to see just how deep this team is.  Stay tuned…  Until then, I’m going to hit the media meal and get upstairs to my seat in the press box.

5:53 p.m. – Ahh, another fine meal from the press lounge.  A dinner salad, chicken and dumplings, roast beef and glazed carrots. 

I am now comfortably in my press box seat.  The National Anthem has been sung by two “nationally known” recording artists I’ve never heard of and the starting line up introductions are about to be made.  

The Van Arsdale brothers just arrived in the press box as the Suns starters are being announced.  It is so great to see Dick up and about.  There are no visible signs of the stroke he suffered over a year ago. 

The Matrix and STAT were just introduced as four- and two-time All-Stars, respectively.  Can’t wait for Vegas, baby!  The Suns.com staff will be well-represented, so count on some great stuff to be posted throughout and after All-Star Weekend.

6:2007 p.m. – And the game is under way.  For a guy born and raised in Chicago, and now working for the Suns, this is one of the two games during the season that seem strangest for me.  Just seeing the Bulls’ red uniforms brings back childhood memories of my dad taking me to the old Chicago Stadium, where I later worked as a member of the local Chicago media before moving to Phoenix several years ago.

There is no doubt my loyalty is now completely with the Suns (being that I’ve been here almost 20 years and the Suns sign my checks), but the Bulls are still at the heart of my love for the game, and that was even years before some Jordan guy came along and won a few titles.

6:21 p.m. -  This will not be an easy task for the purple and orange gang tonight.  Replacing the two-time MVP is bad enough, but to have to deal with two starters out should wreak havoc with the flow of the game, one of the Suns’ major strengths. And now the Suns have lost Amare Stoudemire with his second foul midway through the first quarter, replaced by fan favorite Pat Burke.

Burke has been cheered and vilified for his three-point shooting “antics” late in a couple of blow out wins early in the season.  Neither charactization seems too fair to me.  He was giving the fans what they wanted and even the Suns’ bench seemed to get into it. 

However, the coaching staff and his teammates say he is consistently among the hardest working guys on the roster.  It is good to see Pat getting some relatively meaningful minutes early in games, despite the fact that injuries have been a major reason.  Either way, it should give him an opportunity to see what he can or cannot do.

6:25 p.m. – Pat, Pat, Pat… Just when I compliment him, he takes a wild three-pointer that nicked the side of the backboard.  Not only that, but the lefty shot it from the right corner and still hit the backboard, not sure you’ll see that again any time soon.

6:28 p.m. - For those who have asked, the trim around the Suns’ uniform are flags from Latin American countries in honor of Fiesta Night. 

6:33 p.m. – Jalen Rose enters the game for the first time.  Fans have wanted to see what Jalen can do, tonight should be a pretty good example.  Mike said before the game that he needed more of a presence at the point and would see what Jalen could give him.

6:34 p.m. – Man, this game moves fast when you’re typing… 29-20 Bulls at the end of the first quarter.  Suns have a big challenge ahead of them the rest of the way. 

6:40 p.m. – James Jones open jumper from Marcus Banks followed by a Jalen Rose three, a Stoudemire spinning hoop and a Banks strong drive down the lane on the break to bring the Suns within 31-29.  Those are the kinds of plays that will give the Suns a chance tonight. 

6:45 p.m. – Pretty ally oop finish by Bulls rookie Tyrus Thomas.  Despite his immature comments about the prize money the other day, it will be interesting to see him in the slam dunk contest on All-Star Saturday Night in Vegas next week.  My pick is for Orlando’s Dwight Howard to become the first big man to win it since… ever?

6:49 p.m. – Suns are down 45-35 just past the midway point in the second quarter.  It’s amazing to me that the Suns have not lost a game by double digits yet this season. 

Hey Bodie, thanks for the kind words, although it was rainy and a chilly 61 today here in the Valley of the Sun.

Leandro Barbosa finished with 26 points before fouling out on Sunday night.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE Photos)

6:55 p.m. - The Van Arsdale brothers have left the building.  Even before his stroke, Van would typically only stay for a half or so before heading home to watch the rest of the game and the post-game from the comforts of home.  That leaves me with veteran sportswriter and current Suns.com columnist Joe Gilmartin on my left, and Suns broadcaster and fellow Suns.com blogger Tom Leander on my right  

Tommy gets a bad rap from fans sometimes, but he’s a great guy and growing talent who will be doing Suns broadcasts for years to come, so get used to it. 

6:57 p.m. – Good point, evetS, guess I don’t necessarily think of Nance as a Big Man, per se, but I’ll give it to you. 

7:00 p.m. – Speaking of big men, a viscous dunk by Amare. 

Suns still trail by 10, just under three minutes to go in the half.  The 50th straight Suns sellout at US Airways Center is pretty quiet at this point.  Doesn’t look like too many empty seats, though.  A lot of Bulls jerseys in the crowd, but definitely the minority.  Nothing like a Bear-Cardinals game or Giants-Diamondbacks game.  It’s hard to tell which is the home team at some of those.

7:05 p.m. – And speaking of the Diamondbacks, as if on cue Joe Gil just pointed out to me that new-old D-Backs pitcher Randy Johnson is back in his old seats behind the basket. 

7:08 p.m. – Luol Deng (officially drafted by the Suns for the Bulls) put back a lay up after an uncontested offensive rebound.  That’s NOT the kind of play that will win this game for the Suns.

7:11 p.m. – Suns down 61-50 at the half.  Almost makes me glad I spent most of the first half watching my computer screen.  Here’s to a better second half.  I’ll be back after I run down for my halftime cookie.

7:27 p.m. – Went with popcorn instead.  A little stale, but it will do (this is from the media lounge, I’m sure the popcorn sold at the arena is fresh).  More than one reply tonight has asked about the unique uniforms the Suns are wearing tonight.  Here is the release that explains it all:

SUNS HOST DEX FIESTA NIGHT IN CELEBRATION OF HISPANIC HERITAGE
Fourteen lucky fans will win the Suns Latin Night Jerseys worn during the game

PHOENIX – The Phoenix Suns will host DEX Fiesta Night Sunday, February 11 when they take on the Chicago Bulls at US Airways Center. Tip-off is set for 6 PM.

The evening will feature Hispanic-themed activities and entertainment throughout the game including Ballet Folklorico Alegria and national recording artist Nina Sky. Nina Sky, best known for their hit song “Move Ya Body,” will be on hand singing the national anthem as well as performing at halftime and a special post-game concert in the B Lounge.

In addition, the first 10,000 fans in attendance, over the age of 21, will receive an authentic Suns Soccer Ball, compliments of the Arizona Lottery. Suns players will also be sporting unique Suns Latin Night Jerseys during the game, with 14 lucky fans winning the jerseys off their backs at the conclusion of the game.

7:31 p.m. – The second half is underway.  “Beep, beep,” LB for three to give him nine points on the night.  I, too, hope Steve used halftime to fire the team up.  Whatever Mike said the other night at halftime of the Hawks game didn’t seem to work.

7:38 p.m. - Back to back three point plays for LB on a dandy dish by Raja Bell (I love that Roadrunner “Beep, beep” sound effect).  Suns within seven, 69-62.

7:40 p.m. -  The Suns Gorilla in a taco suit is disturbing. 

7:50 p.m. – Another three for LB, who now leads the Suns in scoring with 18.  Suns down 75-67 with 4:51 to go in the third.  Next possession, STAT takes it to the hole to bring the Suns within 75-69.  It’s that kind of inside-outside combination that they will need the rest of the way. 

7:51 p.m. – As I’m posting the previous comment, Junior drains a Super Shot and the Suns are now within three.  The crowd erputs and would have even without the Gorilla’s clapping hands on the screen.  Okay, I’m old school, but as a fan I don’t like to be told when to cheer.  The lead was 11 and after an 8-0 push now it’s three with 3:49 left in the third, the cheering will come.

7:57 p.m. – More offensive production might have been expected out of Shawn Marion tonight, but his hustle is never absent.  The Matrix just saved the possession three times to give Bell an opportunity to drain a three, pushing the Suns run to 11-0. 

8:00 p.m. – Junior’s two free throws push the Suns to an 80-77 lead as the third quarter winds down, giving the Suns four scorers in double figures.

8:02 p.m. – STAT drains two more free throws to give the Suns their biggest lead of the night to seven, 83-77.  Banks replaces LB, who heads to the bench to rousing cheers.

8:04 p.m. – The Suns ouscore the Bulls 34-18 in the quarter to take an 84-79 lead after three.  Barbosa and Banks have combined for 28 pionts and nine assists so far.  Not good to have two of the Suns’ starters out, but a great confidence booster for both, especially if the Suns are able to pull this one out.  LB’s confidence was already sky-high, but any help Banks can lend as the second half of the season progresses will be a major plus. 

8:15 p.m. -  Bulls playing Suns basketball… All five Bulls touh it before Hinrich hits the three-pointer… Suns trail 90-89 with just under four minutes gone in the fourth.

8:20 p.m. – Time out, Suns, after Hinrich hits another three-pointer to give the Bulls a 97-92 lead with 6:29 to go… Suns Dancers ease the pain during the time out, but they can do only so much.

8:25 p.m. – Stoudemire picks up his fifth foul with under six minutes to go.  D’Antoni is leaving him in there for now, not sure he has much choice. 

LB is five points short of his career high of 30 points, but he now has five fouls.

8:28 p.m. – The last time the Bulls beat the Suns in Phoenix was 10 years ago, when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen each scored 37 points.  Hinrich and Deng currently have 29 and 26, respectively.  LB splits a pair fo free throws to give him 26 on the night.  Bulls lead 103-96 with 3:27 to go in the game.

8:30 p.m. – Crowd goes wild as the Gorilla and Sol Patrol throw free T-shirts to the crowd.  One lands in the press box.  KTAR’s Craig Greilou valiantly tosses it to a kid in the back row. 

8:33 p.m. – Bell misses both free throws and the Suns employ a hack-a-Wallace tactic with a quick foul on the Bulls’ big man.  Wallace makes both and the fans being to head for the exits.  Fans head for the exits?  Plenty of basketball to go, but okay.

8:40 p.m. – The Bulls lead has stretched to 13 with just over two minutes to go.  Not looking good at all for the home team.  As I said at the outset, this was a tough assignment with three key players out.  We come to expect so much from this Suns’ team that I for one, fully expected the Suns to able to pull this one out.  Too much to expect, I suspect. 

8:46 p.m. – I could blame myself for mentioning that the Suns had yet to lose by double digits, but I don’t believe in that sort of thing.  It was still a good experience for Banks, Barbosa, Jones and the like to get some extended minutes.  A disappointing loss in a disappointing stretch of the season, but every team has them, even the best of the best.  The biggest surprise is that it hadn’t happened yet. 

It was also a good, if nerve-racking, experience to blog during a game.  I hope it was at least somewhat entertaining and made some sort of sense.  Thanks to those of you who replied during the game, even the ones I was unable to post due to bad language, incoherent or just downright mean comments. 

My record for blogging within the game is now 0-1, as the Suns fall 116-103.  I’ll give a better effort next time, I promise.