With Joakim Noah (and Kirk Hinrich) sidelined against the Timberwolves, the Bulls faced an uphill battle on a chilly night at the United Center. And although the Bulls caught a bit of a break when Nikola Pekovic went out with an Achilles injury in the first quarter, they were simply outmanned in a 95-86 loss.
The Wolves looked like they were going to run away and hide on several occasions, but the shorthanded Bulls stayed within striking distance pretty much throughout despite a woeful offensive performance (37.6 percent shooting). The Bulls trailed by just seven points heading into the fourth quarter, but the Wolves were able to get some breathing room against an especially horrendous unit of Mike James, Tony Snell, Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer and Nazr Mohammed.
The Bulls did make one final surge after the Wolves, and especially Kevin Love, missed a few wide open chances to blow the game wide open. However, after seeing their deficit trimmed to five on a D.J. Augustin three, the Wolves ran a nice pick-and-roll to spring Love for a layup that Boozer was late rotating over on.
Love led the Wolves with 31 points and eight rebounds while shooting 8-of-17 overall and making 14-of-14 from the free throw line. His three-point shot was uncharacteristically really off, as he went just 1-of-7 from deep and missed a few of those aforementioned looks in the fourth quarter that would have put the Bulls away. But with his shot not working, Love made hay in the paint and obviously at the line.
Nobody else in the Wolves' starting lineup did much of note, but their much maligned bench got a few nice performances. Ronny Turiaf scored a season-high (by a lot) 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds, playing 32 minutes with Pekovic sidelined. Turiaf scored 11 of those points in the first half, doing much of his damage on pick-and-roll lobs. Chase Budinger also made things happen off the bench, scoring 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting and knocking down both threes he attempted.
For the Bulls, all five starters scored in double figures, with Boozer leading the way with 20 points, 14 rebounds and five assists. However, Boozer went just 9-of-24 and his defense was especially deplorable. And with Noah out, it was much more noticeable.
Noah being out (and foul trouble for Taj Gibson) also meant extended minutes for Mohammed, and the results were mixed. Mohammed actually put up nine points and five rebounds, adding in a few nice hustle plays and some respectable enough defense on a few early Love post ups. But he was also a liability at times on the defensive end, with his slow feet contributing to Turiaf's outburst in the first half. Hard to envision a slower frontcourt than Mohammed and Boozer.
We also had the "pleasure" of seeing Cartier Martin as the fourth "big" in front of Erik Murphy, with Martin seeing a minute of action at the end of the first half. Martin had the unenviable task of matching up against Love, and luckily, it was only for that one minute.
Augustin had 19 points and knocked down four threes, although he was a not-so-efficient 6-of-15 overall. Jimmy Butler got off to an excellent start and generally looked better shooting the ball, but a few misses late reduced his shooting line to 5-of-12. Butler did make 2-of-4 from three, and he finished with 16 points and eight rebounds. Progress!
Outside of Mohammed, the short Bulls' bench really stunk. Tony Snell missed all five of his threes, and a few of them were missed badly. Mike James is barely an NBA player at this point. Or maybe he shouldn't be one at all.
This game offered up a glimpse of the Bulls without their most important player (outside of Derrick Rose), and it wasn't pretty. The Bulls did still win the rebounding battle by two and grabbed 11 offensive boards on the night, but the interior defense was lacking. The Wolves had 46 points in the paint to just 36 for the Bulls, and you have to imagine things would have been a bit different with Noah in there. The Wolves also beat the Bulls in fast-break points 22-7, with some lazy transition defense contributing to that. Noah's passing was also missed, although Boozer did make some nice passes out of the high post.
The Bulls now face a six-game road trip out west, with the Spurs up next. Uh oh.