Minnesota (7-25) at Chicago (14-19)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Chicago, IL
Temp: 61° F
  • Game info: 8:30 pm EST Sat Jan 3, 2009
  • TV: FSN, WGN
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The Chicago Bulls have struggled of late, but that could change when they begin a key five-game home stretch Saturday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

If Chicago (14-19) is serious about establishing itself as a playoff contender, it can start with this string of games at home, where the first four are against teams with 11 more combined wins than the Bulls. After facing Minnesota (7-25) for the first time this season, Chicago plays Sacramento, Washington and Oklahoma City before closing the home stretch against Portland on Jan. 12.

The Bulls are 10-4 at the United Center, but have struggled overall of late and enter this contest coming off their second straight frustrating loss to an Eastern Conference power.

Playing again without injured starters Luol Deng and Drew Gooden, the Bulls fell 117-92 at Cleveland on Friday, two days after having their five-game home winning streak snapped with a 113-94 loss to Orlando.

“We’re not healthy and we’re not playing particularly well,” said coach Vinny Del Negro, whose team has lost five of their last six. “Hopefully, we can get back to work (Saturday) and get some home wins.”

Deng missed his fourth straight game and still remains day-to-day with a sprained left ankle, while Gooden, averaging 12.7 points and 8.8 rebounds, could return for this game after sitting his last seven with a sprained right ankle.

The Bulls can use any help they can, especially on the defensive end where they are allowing 106.7 points over the last six games. Chicago yielded 61 in the first half versus Cleveland, which shot 50.6 percent for the game.

Further frustration boiled over for during a timeout in the third quarter when Joakim Noah and Andres Nocioni exchanged words on the bench.

“When you’re losing by 20 points, you’re frustrated,” said Noah, who had 10 rebounds. “It’s the heat of the moment, things are said. But I don’t have any problems with him (Nocioni). Losing is frustrating.”

Ben Gordon scored 22 points, but rookie Derrick Rose was held to a season-low three points as the Bulls shot 36.6 percent on the night.

Chicago hopes to rebound versus Minnesota, which has lost three of its last four trips to the United Center and is 3-13 on the road in 2008-09. Gordon is averaging 21.7 points in six career games versus the Timberwolves, but missed both contests last season when the teams each won a game.

Minnesota enters this contest coming off a 115-108 home victory over Golden State on Friday for its third win in five games.

“We’re just happy to get one game, no matter three out of the last five,” guard Randy Foye said.

Al Jefferson had 32 points and 10 rebounds while Ryan Gomes added 21 and 10 for the Timberwolves, who held off the Warriors three days after surrendering a 29-point lead in the final 22 minutes of a loss to Dallas.

Jefferson, averaging 22.9 points and 10.3 rebounds, has topped the 30-point mark in two of his last three games. He had 26 points and 20 boards in the Timberwolves’ 83-67 home win over Chicago on Jan. 30 in the teams’ most recent meeting.

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Saturday, Jan 3