Shorthanded Bulls fall to Timberwolves

It’s been said that a man travels the world in search of what he needs, but then he returns home to find it. The Bulls sure hope so, and it could simply be improved health, better effort and a victory. Because after two weeks traveling the NBA world, the Bulls need home to be sweet after a third consecutive blowout loss, this time 117-89 Sunday afternoon to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“Two huge games heading into the (All-Star) break,” agreed Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “Getting back home will be great for everybody; hopefully we’ll get some bodies back. We’ll know more, obviously, after tomorrow leading into the Toronto game. First game back is always a difficult one from a long road trip, but we’ve got to find a way to man up and get some energy and hopefully get off to better starts than we’ve gotten, especially these last two games.”

It was a shocking 19-5 Minnesota start and then 31-12 late in the first quarter. And with Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, Nikola Mirotic and Paul Zipser out with various, albeit apparently not serious, injuries, the game was basically over. The Bulls made a bit of a second quarter run, 15-6 to close the half to trail then 57-40. Then midway through the third quarter on three Doug McDermott three pointers to take a 25-point deficit down to 13. But the Timberwolves took the lead back to 84-65 after three quarters and then blew the Bulls away in the fourth quarter with former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau keeping his starters in leading by 28 points midway through the fourth.

“I saw the way (Thibodeau) was coaching the whole game,” said Taj Gibson. “I could see his hand shaking from early on. I knew he really wanted to win that game.”

Though the Bulls have bigger concerns at 23-26 in losing the last three games by an average of 26 points per game to fall to 2-4 on the road trip. Though it wasn’t so much the record, but the concerns about Butler’s heel injury and Wade’s right wrist problem. Hoiberg said X-rays were negative, but Wade left open the possibility of further tests when the team returns home. Mirotic developed back spasms and Zipser apparently added food poisoning to his ankle issues, thus aching from almost literally head to toe.

Though so were the Bulls with McDermott and Bobby Portis leading with 16 points each. The Bulls did move the ball better with a higher percentage of assists and 10 of 25 on threes, the first time with double digit threes in a month. But they were again loose with the ball, and pushed around, the young Timberwolves turning 18 miscues into 26 points, 18 points on fast breaks and a massive 46-35 rebounding against the top ranked rebounding team.

“Getting off to another poor start we weren’t getting back in transition,” noted Hoiberg. “A lot of that was because we were turning the ball over, led to easy baskets for them and a lack of rebounding and a lack of physicality cost us early. They out-horsed us inside. When our bigs were locked up, our guards leaked out and weren’t getting those long rebounds that you have to get.

It’s been a discouraging stretch with the Kings shooting 52 percent, the Warriors 56 (OK, they do that to everyone), but the Suns 51 percent and Minnesota 54 percent. Plus, the Suns and Timberwolves are two of the poorest defensive teams in the league. The Suns are 27th in opponent shooting and Minnesota 28th. Plus, the Timberwolves are 18th in points given up and the Suns 29th. Yet, the Bulls failed to score 100 points against either. It had been since Jan. 15 that the Timberwolves held a team under 100 points, and Minnesota lost that game.

“It’s a tough stretch,” agreed Gibson, who was held to two points as the Timberwolves double teamed him constantly with Wade and Butler out. “Shorthanded, but just makes everybody else step in. Just got to do the small things. Got to get back to ground zero. We’ll figure things out and be ready. Nobody’s going to feel sorry for you. It’s going to take the people in the locker room. Me, myself, I have to do a lot better. It’s going to take everybody just to round up the cattle and be ready to move out again.”

Being out West you tend to feel the open plains, and this one’s been starting to feel like a cattle drive. Though the Bulls seemed lately being the cattle driven for slaughter.

Yes, keep them dogies rollin’, though them fast breaks are swollen’

Through sun and cold and weather, and hell bent for the ball that’s leather

All the things they’re missin', like transition defense, rebounding and hittin’

Move 'em out, head 'em up,
Head 'em up, move 'em on.
Move 'em out, head 'em up and get on home,

This kind of trip sure can make your hide raw.

“We have a job to do,” said the cowboy of the group, Butler, who was uncertain about playing Tuesday. “We have to get better and I think it’s very possible; put this behind us and move forward. I think we are going to be OK, but we just have to keep playing basketball the right way.”

Not much went right for the Bulls Sunday as it supposedly was bad fish for Zipser and a dead fish effort much of the game as without their two veterans the Bulls seemed mostly shocked early.

Minnesota anticipated the Bulls going to their left over veterans, Gibson and Lopez, and was ready. They pressured inside and then got out flying. Andrew Wiggins had a big start with 14 points in the first quarter, almost outscoring the Bulls by himself. He ended with 27 points and Karl-Anthony Towns had 22. Ricky Rubio had 17 points and 11 assists, and for all the talk about perhaps trading him he was vital pushing the ball and leading Minnesota’s transition game.

Hoiberg tried everything early with rare early appearances from Portis and Isaiah Canaan.

“A lot of guys had opportunities,” said Hoiberg. “You have to find a way to muster up the energy and fight. The poor starts have really affected our team. We played them even the second and third quarters, but getting off to a poor start you dig yourself a big hole; we just don’t have enough.”

It wasn’t until Michael Carter-Williams got a little going late in the second quarter that the Bulls were even competing much. Timberwolves players were diving out of bounds to save balls as Bulls players looked on.

Carter-Williams had 12 points, seven rebounds and six assists, Rajon Rondo had 10 points and six assists and Lopez had 10 points. Portis tied a season high.

“I thought Bobby was out there battling,” said Hoiberg. “He’s always going to give you effort; spaced the floor (by running the court) and hit a few shots. Bobby’s energy is one thing you know you are going to get when he gets on the floor.”

The Bulls were competitive throughout the second and third quarters, though the symbolic end was perhaps with about a minute left in the third. Carter-Williams got out on a four-on-one break after a miss and the Bulls trailing 82-63. He threw the ball out of bounds with the other three guys running squeezed in toward Carter-Williams, making the pass difficult. Minnesota then ended it with a 17-8 start to the fourth quarter.

"They got us to commit turnovers on the offensive end and that really fueled their offense, fueled their confidence," added Lopez. "I really just think we have to tighten up things across the board. There are times where you’re giving that effort and when we do, we’ve been successful.”

Home, Robert Frost wrote, is the place where when you have to go there they have to take you in.

The Bulls are grateful to be returning home. They’ll hope to be able to show it in two more games before it’s time for the stretch run.