Timberwolves-Bulls Preview

The Associated Press

The Minnesota Timberwolves and Chicago Bulls both entered this season without their top player.

While the Bulls have looked pedestrian at times without Derrick Rose, the surging Timberwolves have more than held their own despite Kevin Love's absence.

Minnesota tries to extend its best start in 11 seasons Saturday night when it visits the Bulls, winners of five straight in this series.

Though many expected the Timberwolves to stumble as Love worked his way back from a broken right hand, coach Rick Adelman's team has proven to be one of this season's biggest surprises in getting off to a 4-1 start.

Minnesota turned heads again Friday, pulling out a thrilling 96-94 win over Indiana on Chase Budinger's layup with 0.8 seconds to go. The Timberwolves, off to their best start since opening a franchise-best 6-0 in 2001-02, have posted three straight victories to match their longest streak from last season.

Budinger finished with 18 points Friday while Derrick Williams scored 15 for Minnesota, which last won four in a row Jan. 29-Feb. 6, 2010.

In addition to Love, the Timberwolves continue to play without Ricky Rubio (torn ACL). Fellow point guard J.J. Barea is expected to miss a second straight game with a sprained left foot.

Minnesota may have suffered another big blow Friday after Brandon Roy left at halftime with a sore right knee. The veteran guard, who's attempting to come back from chronic knee troubles that caused him to retire prior to last season, is uncertain to play Saturday but plans to travel with the team.

"It's OK," forward Andrei Kirilenko said. "We'll still keep winning. Injuries, that don't matter. Winning is what matters."

Minnesota has lost by an average of 15.8 points during its skid against Chicago, though the Bulls needed 31 from Rose in a 111-100 road win Jan. 10 in the teams' only meeting last season.

Chicago opened 2-0 but has since dropped two of three, losing 97-91 to Oklahoma City on Thursday. The Bulls (3-2) were outscored 31-19 in the fourth quarter.

"We were right there in the game," forward Luol Deng, who scored a game-high 27 points, told the team's official website. "We've (just) got to have a better fourth quarter. That's what we've got to get back to. There's going to be a lot of those (close) games. We've just got to be tough minded to win those games in the end."

Richard Hamilton had 20 points, while Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah each scored nine and combined for 24 rebounds.

"Derrick Rose is an unbelievable player, don't get me wrong. He is Chicago," Thunder superstar Kevin Durant said. "But those guys are great complements to him. Once one of your best players is out, guys got to step up and that's what they've been doing ever since he's been out."

The Bulls, who went an Eastern Conference-best 62-12 at home over the previous two seasons, have split four games at the United Center.

"There's no excuses," forward Taj Gibson said. "We're a man down, but guys will have to step up. ... We got to keep grinding until he (Rose) gets back and just move forward."

With Rose not expected to return anytime soon, Chicago will surely continue to rely on its superb defensive efforts. The Bulls are allowing 90.4 points per game to rank near the top of the league.

No team has made fewer 3-pointers than the Bulls, who have shot 16 of 57 (28.1 percent) from beyond the arc.

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