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Bulls win despite missing key players

The SportsXchange

MINNEAPOLIS - No Joakim Noah, no Derrick Rose, no Marco Belinelli, and it still didn't matter for the Chicago Bulls Sunday night at Target Center.

Missing four players this time against a Minnesota Timberwolves team that finally is almost healthy, the Bulls used their muscle to forge a 104-97 victory that reversed two trends.

Until Sunday, Chicago had lost five of their last six road games and the Wolves had won three of four home games.

This time, the Bulls shrugged off a slow start and imposed their will physically one night after beating Central Division-leading Indiana by three points at home.

The Wolves were coming off a 31-point victory at Phoenix Friday, but they were outrebounded 52-32 by the Bulls.

Chicago led by as many as 16 points just before halftime and stayed in control despite having the margin cut to five midway through the fourth quarter.

Twenty of those 52 rebounds came on the offensive backboards, including a critical one Luol Deng grabbed over Wolves forward Chase Budinger. Deng then found Nate Robinson beyond the arc for a three-pointer that repelled the Wolves for good after they had pulled within 90-85 with 6:21 left.

"We had a couple of those kinds of plays in the fourth quarter that were just huge," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "That's finding a way to win. We're a little disjointed right now. We've got a lot of guys in and out, so it's hard to build a rhythm. That's a big-time play and that's what gets overlooked with Luol all the time."

The Bulls played the Pacers without Noah, Rose and Rip Hamilton and then found out Sunday morning that starting shooting guard Belinelli was also out because of an abdominal strain.

Thibodeau simply inserted Jimmy Butler into the starting lineup at Belinelli's spot and the Bulls overcame an early 12-5 deficit -- "We were in mud," Thibodeau said -- with an 18-4 run that ended the first quarter and changed the game.

Butler played nearly 44 minutes and delivered a 20-point, nine-rebound game while matched up against undersized Wolves shooting guard Luke Ridnour. Frontcourt mates Deng (17 points) and Carlos Boozer (19) combined for 36 points and Robinson scored 22 off the bench.

"I feel like if you hear the same things every day, you start to buy into it," said Butler, who scored three points and played 20 minutes against Indiana the night before. "Thibs is constantly telling us that we have enough to win on any given night. I feel like as we long as we play hard and we guard and we play for one another, we can win no matter how men we're down with."

The Bulls played without those four players and still manhandled a Wolves team that, by their standards, is relatively healthy now that Budinger, Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirlenko are back in the lineup, even if Kevin Love is still missing.

The Bulls punched the Wolves late in the first quarter, and the Wolves never punched back until it was too late.

"We just didn't play hard enough at the start of the game," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. "You set the tone. It was no secret that is what was going to happen. We have to learn to do it first. We can't let them dominate the game from the start."

Butler played the entire fourth quarter, when he scored nine of his points. Robinson scored eight of his points in the final quarter, and he had 10 assists in 34 1/2 minutes.

On Saturday, Robinson played 20 minutes before getting ejected for a flagrant foul on Pacers guard Lance Stephenson.

"He got ejected yesterday so he was rested," Deng said coyly. "He had a lot of energy for us tonight."

NOTES: Love said before Sunday's game that he will have an MRI taken on his broken right shooting hand at the end of this coming week. The result will be sent to his New York City surgeon so he won't have to make another visit. He admitted there's a chance he won't play again if the surgeon says it needs another week of healing or more. "I'd like to come back," he said. "I'd like to be out there." ... Love was presented with his 2012 U.S. Olympic ring before Sunday's game and said he'll likely wear it on that right shooting hand. "I bought it a size up so I could fit my fat fingers into it when I'm 50, 60 years old," he told a handful of aging reporters. "No offense." ... Rose accompanied the Bulls to Minnesota even though he's not yet ready to return from knee surgery, but Noah and Hamilton were left behind. Hamilton has missed the last month because of a back injury, and Noah missed his second straight game because of plantar fasciitis that has flared again in his right foot. "It just started bothering him again," Thibodeau said about Noah. "We just thought it was best to let it calm down a little bit."
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