While many thought the Chicago Bulls would fall apart after trading away their leading scorer, that's hardly been the case.
D.J. Augustin is a big reason why.
Coming off another huge game, Augustin tries to lead the surging Bulls to an eighth consecutive win over the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night.
Tied for the NBA lead in wins this month, Chicago (22-21) has compiled a 10-3 record to open 2014, including an 8-3 mark since sending Luol Deng to Cleveland on Jan. 6. Though he's only been with the team for six weeks since signing as a free agent, Augustin has been carrying the load, posting 20.4 points per game while shooting 51.6 percent over the last seven.
"D.J. was a huge pick up for us," coach Tom Thibodeau told the team's official website. "We had a need with Derrick (Rose) and Kirk (Hinrich) going down and obviously he had a need as well. It was good for him and it has been great for us.
"He was ready when this opportunity came around and he hit the ground running. It's not just his individual talents but it is also what he is doing for our team. He is running our team well."
After falling 112-95 to the Clippers on Friday, Chicago bounced back with an 89-87 win at Charlotte the following night. Augustin, who has scored at least 27 points in three of the last four games, led the way with a season-high 28 against his former club.
"I'm just out there playing freely and doing what I can," said Augustin, who scored 15 in the fourth quarter. "All I think about is playing hard and whatever play Thibs runs I do my best."
Joakim Noah also came up big with 11 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. He has averaged 14.0 boards while stringing together 16 consecutive double-digit efforts, the team's longest such run since Dennis Rodman's streak of 43 in 1996-97.
The Bulls haven't dropped back-to-back contests since a season worst-tying four-game skid Dec. 14-19.
"This team, they know," Thibodeau said. "That's the best part about this team. They've got great pride, they're going to bounce back, they're going to give you everything they have. For us, we've got to keep scratching out wins. We can never lose sight of how hard we have to play to give ourselves a chance to win, particularly when we're short-handed."
Chicago has had its way with Minnesota (21-22) of late, taking seven straight meetings by an average of 13.3 points. Timberwolves All-Star Kevin Love has missed the last two due to injury, though.
Love was limited by a sore knee in Saturday's 115-104 loss at Portland, Minnesota's first defeat in four games. Love, who had 26 points, 14 boards and eight assists the night before in a 121-120 win at Golden State, scored just 15 while shooting 4 of 12.
"It was tough. This morning, it was one of those times where you jump out of bed and think, I don't know how I'm going to play tonight," he said. "We're happy to have a day off and head to Chicago."
Kevin Martin scored 30 points while making a season-high six 3s, and Nikola Pekovic stayed hot with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Pekovic is averaging 22.5 and 12.0 boards while shooting 58.2 percent over a four-game stretch.
Minnesota is 1-11 on the road when scoring fewer than 109 points. Chicago is giving up 92.9 per game to rank second in the NBA.
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