The Chicago Bulls have gone from preseason favorite to potential bust and back to title contender within the first five weeks of the season.
Currently the hottest team in the Eastern Conference, the Bulls look to extend their season-high winning streak to eight games Saturday when they host the surging Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Bulls (10-9) defeated Toronto 93-90 on Friday, giving them seven consecutive home wins as well. Chicago is enjoying its longest home winning streak since a nine-game run at the United Center from Jan. 7-27, 2005.
“We all know it’s big for us,” Bulls forward Luol Deng said. “We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We just have to be consistent and take advantage of it.”
Their overall winning streak is the team’s longest since a nine-game skein from March 19-April 2, 2005. Those streaks helped end a six-year playoff drought as Chicago went 47-35.
This squad entered the season as one of the favorites to emerge from a sluggish Eastern Conference after the addition of free agent Ben Wallace. The Bulls started the season with a 108-66 rout of the defending NBA champion Miami Heat, but struggled to win only two of their next 11 games, and Wallace became embroiled in a headband controversy with coach Scott Skiles.
After scoring just 95.2 points per game during a six-game losing streak, the Bulls are averaging 106.4 points during their winning streak. They also have tightened up defensively, limiting opponents to 95.2 points per game the last seven contests after giving up an average of 105.0 points in the six losses.
Deng, who is averaging a team-high 18.6 points, is shooting 33-for-51 (64.7 percent) over his last four games.
The Timberwolves (9-9) beat Utah 110-103 on Friday to match a season high with their third straight win. Despite the recent run and a season-high 31 points from Kevin Garnett, the power forward and face of the franchise is hoping for some help after learning Allen Iverson requested to be traded Friday from the Philadelphia 76ers.
“Come on, boy,” Garnett said. “I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t want to play with him.”
“Bring it on, I love ‘The Answer,’ We welcome A.I. with open arms. Where’s Kevin McHale?”
McHale—Minnesota’s general manager—did not comment on the speculation, and coach Dwane Casey did not add much.
“That’s none of my business,” Casey said. “All I’m concerned with is this roster I have right now.”
That roster has centered around Garnett for much of his 12-year career since being drafted fifth overall by Minnesota in 1995 out of Farragut Career Academy in Chicago.
Garnett leads the team in scoring with 21.8 points with 12.1 rebounds per game, and he has averaged 20.3 points and 12.5 rebounds in 19 lifetime games versus Chicago. He has finished as Minnesota’s top scorer and rebounder in each of the last 10 seasons.
Minnesota has not won four in a row since a five-game streak from Dec. 2-10, 2005.
The Bulls have won three of the last four games against Minnesota after dropping 10 in a row from 1999-2003. The teams split both meetings last season, with Chicago winning 111-100 at the United Center on Feb. 28.