Bulls fend off pesky Wolves

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Bulls fend off pesky Wolves

CHICAGO--After looking like a dream team early, the Bulls (9-2) fell asleep before waking up late to survive a challenge from the Timberwolves (3-7) in their 111-100 win Tuesday night at the Target Center in Minneapolis, the second game of their only back-to-back-to-back stretch of the season. Several contributors made an impact, but the one-two punch of Derrick Rose and Luol Deng closed it out for the Bulls, who squandered a 24-point first-half lead as a result of Minnesota rookie point guard Ricky Rubio's impressive play.

Propelled by a smothering defense and the assertive scoring efforts of Rose (31 points, 4-for-8 three-point shooting, 11 assists, two blocked shots) and Deng (21 points, 11 rebounds), the Bulls jumped all over the Timberwolves right out of the gate, seemingly scoring at will in both transition and out of halfcourt offensive sets. Thirteen first-quarter points from Rose--in a variety of methods, from deft off-hand finishes after dribble penetration, to three-point bombs off the bounce and wide-open flushes as the result of a backdoor cut--but countering the visitors' ballooning lead was the reigning leave MVP tweaking an ankle late in the opening period, after which the Bulls led, 33-17.

Rose would leave the court between quarters (he'd return to the contest midway between periods after receiving medical treatment for his injury), but his services weren't needed, as an offensively-aggressive "Bench Mob," led by an assertive John Lucas--again playing significant minutes in place of the sidelined C.J. Watson, the diminutive third-stringer's effectiveness allowed Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau to play Rose off the ball for a stretch--Taj Gibson's (three blocked shots) usual high activity level on both ends, Omer Asik (six points, six rebounds), displaying polished post moves, and temporary starter Ronnie Brewer's (17 points) subtle contributions, maintained the Bulls' wide winning margin. However, behind versatile power forward Kevin Love's (20 points, 3-for-8 three-point shooting, 13 rebounds) outside marksmanship and Rubio's playmaking, the Timberwolves made a 20-2 before halftime to trim the deficit and send the Bulls into the break with a 53-47 advantage.

Minnesota continued to chip away at Chicago's increasingly tenuous lead, as the precocious Rubio created for himself and teammates, such as hot-shooting veteran starting point guard Luke Ridnour (22 points, 3-for-3 three-point shooting, 8-for-11 overall) and talented young big man Anthony Randolph (18 points) against their guests, who insisted on settling for perimeter shots. The visitors saw the gap close completely when their hosts tied the score at 70 apiece, but kept afloat by Deng's timely scoring, the Bulls managed to escape the third quarter ahead, 79-74.

Chicago was able to maintain its cushion early in the final stanza due to Deng's consistent point production, Gibson's defensive prowess, sharspshooter Kyle Korver's (13 points, 3-for-3 three-point shooting, 5-for-6 overall) potent stroke and Rose finding his groove again, keeping the hosts, who remained within striking distance, at bay. But down the stretch, the combination of Rose and Deng, as well as the perimeter firepower of Brewer and Korver, were too much for the feisty Timberwolves.

The state of the Bulls after the first half of the season

The state of the Bulls after the first half of the season

Who are the Bulls? The team that beat Cleveland and Toronto or lost to Dallas, Minnesota and Milwaukee?

That's the question Bulls fans are currently asking and the one Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill posed in the video above.

The Bulls have had impressive wins and shocking losses, but neither of those should be surprising at this point. The Bulls are, as Goodwill put it, consistently inconsistent.

The first half of the season has proven that Dwyane Wade still has some memorable moments left to give and Jimmy Butler continues to approach superstardom. On the downside, the drama surrounding Rajon Rondo has meant the 'three alphas' that were hyped up in the preseason haven't been the dynamic trio some Bulls fans had hoped.

Coach Fred Hoiberg doesn't have the shooters his system needs, but can he still rally the troops and get something out of Rondo?

Watch the video to see Goodwill's look back on the Bulls' first half and what could be ahead.

Five Things to Watch: Bulls host Mavericks in search of third straight win

Five Things to Watch: Bulls host Mavericks in search of third straight win

Watch as the Bulls take on the Mavericks tonight on CSN+ and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

Five Things to Watch:

1. What's Jimmy Butler got in store? On paper, Butler's performance Sunday night against the Grizzlies was nothing special. In fact, in many ways it fell short of his season averages. But Jimmy G. Buckets was on his game in the fourth quarter when the Bulls needed him most, helping them to a crucial road victory in Memphis. Tonight a fast start will be key against a Mavericks team that struggles to play from behind.

2. Dirk Nowitzki is back. The Mavericks are finally getting back to full-strength, and the main contributor to that is Dirk Nowtizki. The future Hall-of-Famer is finally rounding into form after an Achilles injury kept him out of the lineup most of the year. In his last three games, Nowitzki is averaging 20.3 points on 49 percent shooting.

3. There was at least some rumblings that the Bulls might have considered going after Ames native Harrison Barnes this past offseason. Instead, Barnes wound up in Dallas a potential building block for the Mavs. And he's looked pretty solid through the season's first half. Barnes is averaging 20.7 points on 48 percent shooting, 5.4 rebounds and nearly a steal per game in 36 minutes. It'll be a fun matchup watching him go against Jimmy Butler.

4. More 3-pointers on the way? It's easy to say that a 31-point outing will get you going, but maybe Doug McDermott can build on his career night against the Grizzlies. He hit 3 of 6 triples, made 10 of 11 free throws and even added six rebounds and a(nother) block. The Bulls will be able to run more against the Mavs than they were the Grizzlies, meaning more spacing for McDermott to find open shots. If he's hitting early, the Bulls are in good shape.

5. A three-game winning streak on the line. The last time the Bulls won three straight -- earlier this month -- it pushed them over .500. Now they've got a chance to reel off a third straight and again get back over .500. As poorly as the Bulls have played as a whole, the Eastern Conference is wide open at the bottom half of the playoff bracket, so these are opportunities they don't want to miss against a struggling team.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

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