It took some time, but the Minnesota Timberwolves finally appear to be making some progress.
The surging Timberwolves could be in good shape to continue their strong play when they visit the depleted Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night in the opener of a home-and-home series.
Minnesota (8-35) still has the worst record in the NBA, but the Timberwolves have been making strides toward respectability in their first season since star Kevin Garnett was traded to Boston. They proved that again by winning for the third time in four games Sunday, 98-95 at home over New Jersey.
"We're moving in the right direction and we're growing," said Minnesota coach Randy Wittman, whose team lost 31 of its first 36 contests.
The Timberwolves won at Golden State and at home against Phoenix last week to post consecutive victories for the first time this season. After a one-point road loss to Garnett and the Celtics on Friday, Minnesota will again try for back-to-back wins while looking for a third straight victory over Chicago.
Minnesota is catching the underachieving Bulls (17-26) at the right time, with top scorers Ben Gordon and Luol Deng expected to be out of the lineup Tuesday and possibly when the teams meet in Minneapolis on Wednesday.
On Sunday, Al Jefferson scored a career-high 40 points and grabbed 19 rebounds as the Timberwolves outscored the Nets 34-21 in the fourth quarter.
"Twenty games ago, we would have lost the game," said Jefferson, whose team trailed by 15 points with 10 minutes remaining. "That just shows how much we've improved. We've stopped putting our heads down when teams make a run."
Jefferson, the team's leader with 21.1 points and 12.1 rebounds per game, is averaging 28.8 points and 12.7 boards over his last four contests.
Minnesota, 2-21 away from home, will try for its second straight win at Chicago after posting a 91-81 victory there on Dec. 9, 2006.
The Bulls, meanwhile, look to avoid a third straight loss when they conclude a four-game homestand Tuesday.
With Gordon (sprained right wrist) and Deng (Achilles' tendinitis) out again, Chicago lost 88-77 to Phoenix on Sunday.
Gordon, who averages 19.6 points, is day-to-day after missing his last three games. Deng, who averages 17.9 points, has missed four of five games and is expected to be out one to three weeks for Chicago, which has been held to the same point total in its last two contests.
Kirk Hinrich will again try to carry the offensive load for the Bulls after scoring 31 points on 12-for-23 shooting Sunday. Hinrich, who averages 12.5 points per game, had a career-high 38 points in a win over Indiana last Wednesday.
"I'm just trying to be aggressive," said Hinrich, who averaged 17.0 points in two games against Minnesota in 2006-07. "(I'm) trying to make a conscious effort to take the ball to the basket, trying to make plays."
Guard Chris Duhon, who played the last two games after missing two with a bruised left knee, is expected to be out for the next few contests after playing 32 minutes Sunday.
"I think it's definitely affecting me," Duhon said.
Chicago hasn't lost three in a row at the United Center since dropping five straight there from Dec. 20, 2005-Jan. 4, 2006.
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