CHICAGO — The Minnesota Timberwolves are starting to resemble the team they expected to be heading into the season.
While forward Kevin Love scored 31 points in a 95-86 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Monday night at the United Center, two Minnesota players who missed the majority of the season with injuries provided a spark off the bench.
Forward Ronny Turiaf scored 14 points and forward Chase Budinger added 12. Minnesota (22-22) earned its fourth win in five games. The Timberwolves have not been above .500 since Nov. 23, when they were 8-7.
“We had a really tough schedule to start with, we lost all these close games,” Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said. “It’s a matter of just playing at a certain level. I think that’s what we have to do. We have to play at a certain level game in and game out, and we’re going to start winning our share of games.”
The Timberwolves are 1-11 in games decided by four points or fewer, but that wasn’t an issue Monday. The victory ended Minnesota’s seven-game losing streak to Chicago.
“The difference is now we trust each other,” said Love, who also grabbed a team-high eight rebounds. “We need to get better on the defensive end. We can score with anybody, but we need to play better defensively.”
The matchup offered an extreme clash of styles. Heading into the game, Minnesota ranked second in the league in points scored at 106.8 per game, and Chicago was second to last with a 92.9-point average.
The Timberwolves kept up their usual pace in the first half, building a 54-46 lead at intermission. However, the game slowed to crawl in the second half.
Minnesota shot 53.8 percent from the field in the first half and just 31.6 percent in the third quarter, but the Bulls could only cut one point off their deficit.
To open the fourth quarter, Chicago (22-22) failed to score for nearly four minutes. Meanwhile, a bank shot by Budinger and 3-pointer by forward Corey Brewer boosted the Timberwolves’ lead to 77-65.
The Bulls made a surge in the final two minutes. A put-back by forward Taj Gibson and 3-pointer from point guard D.J. Augustin brought Chicago within 84-79 with 1:29 remaining.
On the other end, Love finished a reverse scoop and then Brewer got a breakaway dunk off a Bulls miss to make it 88-79 with 57.4 seconds remaining.
“We had too many turnovers (15),” Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Turnovers are usually the result of two things — trying to go one-on-one and trying to thread the needle. We just have to hit the first open man.”
Forward Carlos Boozer led Chicago with 20 points and 14 rebounds. Augustin added 19 points, and guard Jimmy Butler finished with 16.
The Bulls played without center Joakim Noah, who sat out because of an illness. Guard Kirk Hinrich missed his fourth consecutive game with a hamstring strain.
Minnesota helped its cause by knocking down 22 of 26 free throws. Love was a perfect 14-for-14.
“It is the mental mistakes that killed us,” Thibodeau said. “Normally, we are very disciplined with body position. This was a tough game for us. We have to adjust to the way the game is called.”
Minnesota center Nikola Pekovic left the game after six minutes with a sore right Achilles tendon and did not return. In his previous four games, Pekovic averaged 22.5 points and 12 rebounds.
“It’s been bothering Pek the whole trip,” Adelman said. “He hasn’t said anything.”
Minnesota jumped to a 17-6 lead and never trailed. The Bulls closed within 23-20 by the end of the first quarter, but the Timberwolves opened the second with a 7-0 run to push the advantage back into double digits.
Chicago fell to 4-10 against Western Conference opponents and now departs on a six-game Western road trip, beginning Wednesday against the Spurs in San Antonio.
NOTES: Chicago C Joakim Noah left the arena shortly before tipoff because of an illness. It was the second game he missed this season. Noah is working on a career-best streak of 16 consecutive games with double-figure rebounds. The Bulls’ franchise record is 43 by Dennis Rodman. … Minnesota G Ricky Rubio, who successfully returned from a torn ACL last season, talked about Chicago G Derrick Rose having a second knee surgery in November. “When you go down twice, it has to be hard,” Rubio said. “I know he’s a warrior and he wants to come back and he’s going to do it. Best of luck to him.” … Bulls G D.J. Augustin scored 27 or more points in three of his previous four games before Monday. Prior to the run, Augustin hadn’t scored 27 points in an NBA game since Jan. 28, 2011, when he played for the Charlotte Bobcats.
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