Streak over, but Hinrich still hot

BasketballSportsChicago BullsBen GordonAndres NocioniKevin GarnettKirk Hinrich

For those willing to look past the score line in the Bulls' 99-93 loss to the Timberwolves on Wednesday night, take heart in Kirk Hinrich's career-high 17 assists.

His numbers in the last four games, along with the Bulls' 3-1 record, show Hinrich is thriving since coach Scott Skiles shook up the lineup and moved him to point guard.

Of course, this did not help the Bulls stomach their failure to take advantage of a floundering Timberwolves team.

"Neither team was particularly sharp, to put it mildly," Skiles said. "It was anybody's game for the taking."

The Timberwolves snapped the Bulls' winning streak at three behind Kevin Garnett's game-high 28 points and 14 rebounds and Wally Szczerbiak's 25 points.

Tuesday night, during the Timberwolves' three-point loss to the Bucks, Garnett displayed his annoyance with Minnesota's troubles by yelling at his teammates. After that game Garnett said the losses were starting to take a toll on the Timberwolves.

Actually, Minnesota has been in disarray since last month. The loss to the Bucks was its 11th in 14 games.

True to form, Minnesota gave the Bulls plenty of chances to take control. The Timberwolves shot 13.6 percent in the second quarter, but the Bulls outscored them by only one point. The fourth quarter also was littered with missed opportunities for the Bulls.

"I thought we could have, at any moment, really exerted ourselves and done something positive to get the win," Skiles said.

Instead, the Bulls reverted to fouling, a familiar refrain. The Timberwolves went 35 of 44 from the free-throw line compared to 16 of 23 for the Bulls.

Ben Gordon got the Bulls going early, hitting six straight shots in the first quarter before missing his last two.

He had 14 of the Bulls' 26 first-quarter points. Gordon, however, couldn't sustain his offense.

"My rhythm got busted up a little bit by my foul trouble," said Gordon, who fouled out with 1 minute 51 seconds left in the game and 19 points.

The Timberwolves' defense didn't get to him, Gordon said.

"I just noticed me missing shots," he said.

Hinrich, meanwhile, continues to put up outstanding numbers. In his last four games, he is averaging 21.5 points and 10 assists.

"I feel a lot more comfortable, that's for sure," Hinrich said of the lineup switch.

Hinrich moved to shooting guard last season to accommodate the entry of Chris Duhon into the starting lineup.

The Bulls were successful, winning 47 games, but couldn't duplicate the chemistry.

"It has been a while since I played the point, and as much as I learned my rookie year playing point guard, I think I've learned just as much in these last four games," Hinrich said.

Hinrich finished with 17 points and pulled down eight rebounds while committing only two turnovers.

Andres Nocioni scored 23 to go with nine rebounds.

mxgarcia@tribune.com

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